Pizza is one of life’s comfort foods. It can be easily served in slices for the take-away market and is always a hit with the public. You only have to look at Domino’s latest sales figures to see that pizza is also proving a definite hit in the recession, with its sales up 15.4% for the 26 weeks ended 28 June 2009.

But what is popular in terms of pizza toppings? And are there any other trends when it comes to pizza innovation? Taking Dominos as an example again, it says the most popular choice for customers in the UK is the ’Choose Your Own’ option, which may not be that easy for bakers to offer. However, the most popular ready-prepared pizza on Domino’s menu is Pepperoni Passion, which it says has been the number one for quite some time. This, bakers can do.

It appears that, with pizza, the traditional favourites are very much still the best-sellers and, when it comes to innovation, it’s more about ’variation on a theme’ rather than completely new ideas, explains Phil Goodall, commercial director at Vion Pizza (Paramount Foods). Vion supplies chilled pizza - both retailer own-label and branded lines - to all of the major UK supermarkets. Goodall says cheese and tomato is the top-seller, or a variation on cheese and tomato, from a basic offering, right through to a premium version. This is followed by pepperoni and ham and pineapple, he adds.

"Retailers’ and suppliers’ development teams can adapt a recipe and add value through ingredients while still maintaining overall flavour profile," he says, adding that one of the main points to remember is that innovation in pizza toppings is about the ability to be creative, but still appeal to the mass market.

One bakery retail outlet that has developed its take on the traditional pizza offering is West Cornwall Pasty Co, which sells pizza baguettes, such as ham and onion, ham and mushroom, and mozzarella and mixed vegetable. And bakery manufacturer Monty’s Bakehouse may have solved the ’topping sticking to packaging issue’ with its calzone-style folded pizza, launched back in 2007, which it supplies to the UK air and travel market, as well as stadia. They are available in margherita and pepperoni varieties, and are cooked and served in their packaging - perfect for food-to-go. Terri Waghorn at Monty’s says the pizza ’toppings’ were chosen "based on what we saw was popular in pizza houses".

Cinnamon Square co-owner Paul Barker says pizzas are a great way for bakers to make a bit of extra profit, and by producing a quality dough it can set them apart from other high street competitors. Cinnamon Square produces a sheet of vegetarian pizza in a tray, from a dough that takes 27 hours to produce, which it then cuts into portions. "Customers can either take it away, hot or cold, or we can heat it up for them on a plate to eat-in," explains Barker. The pizza is wrapped in grease-proof parchment paper, and then put in a bag with a napkin. "For us, the important part is the dough. If you get the dough right and get as much water in it as possible, you’ll have a nice crispy crust."

Barker has found that the summer months tend to be a bit quieter on the pizza sales front, as it tends to be served hot. However, the shop sells pizza all year round and he says it is easy for bakers to make a good profit on it. "Only a small amount of dough is used for the base, and the cost of the toppings depends on how generous you are and the quality of the ingredients you use," says Barker. "However, this can obviously be reflected in the price."

He says that, as a baker, the ability to make a good dough enables you to differentiate yourself from the competition. "If you can make a decent bread, then there’s no reason why you can’t make a decent pizza dough."

In terms of other trends, ingredients company Leathams says it sees a number of new developments within the pizza toppings market - in particular the rise in popularity of spicy pizzas. Leathams supplies a range of different ingredients that can be used by both bakery retailers and pizza delivery companies. These include its brands SunBlush Tomatoes and SunBlush Cherry Tomatoes, Roquito Peppers and CherryBell Peppers, which are a milder pepper marinated in a sweet brine.

It also offers a range of cheeses, as well as ingredients such as artichoke slices. Marc Owen from Leathams says that, for craft bakers who want to offer pizza, it’s about creating something visual and good value. For example, if cost is an issue, use an ingredient such as chorizo for good coverage.

Leathams notes the use of authentic ingredients as another trend, which it says is supported by the sales of its regional salamis. There is also increased demand by pizza companies for premium ingredients, says Leathams. The company has been pushing the boundaries when it comes to innovation and has launched a range of sweet products to be used on dessert pizzas, such as Dulce de Leche toffee sauce, which it recommends combined with mascarpone.

Recent research has shown that consumers are favouring traditional foods that they know and love in the recession, and you could say a slice of pizza is a known entity. There may be some dispute about the number one pizza topping, but the old favourites definitely shine through.


=== Ingredients innovation ===

There may not be a surge of change when it comes to popular toppings, but there is still room in the market for innovation, as ingredients supplier Cesarin has discovered.

Traditionally known for supplying candied fruits, the Italian company branched out a few years ago and developed a new range called Greenline LWA Vegetables, including tomatoes and olives, peppers, carrots and mushrooms, which can be used by manufacturers for pizza toppings. These are stabilised vegetables - with the water taken out - which offer a similar performance but have a longer shelf-life.


=== Pizza Ovens - what’s on the market ===

l Pantheon - says its single-deck (PO4) oven (below) is the ideal solution for outlets where pizza isn’t the main product sold. Each deck holds four 12-inch pizzas and the oven features a 60cm x 60cm refractory brick base, for effective heat distribution. Pizzas can be cooked directly on the brick base for a crispier base or on a baking tray.

l Sveba Dahlen - manufactures a Classic Pizza Oven, which is available in four different widths and features a stone surface. It has also just launched a TP Travelling Pizza Oven, which offers quick baking times. It is available in two sizes and up to three sections vertically, with baking times varying from two to 10 minutes. The operator can set the controls for timing and temperature and the pizzas travel through at a pre-set speed.

l Rational - recommends its SelfCooking Center (below) for baking pizzas. It comes in a range of sizes to suit different types of outlet. The unit’s LevelControl technology can also automatically adapt the programme for fresh or frozen pizza. Non-stick pizza dishes are also available, which can hold pizzas up to 11 inches wide, as well as a Grill and Pizza Tray.

l MIWE - says its Condo oven is suitable for retailers wanting to offer pizza by the slice. The versatile deck oven is also now available in a matt black finish. Each of the electric heated decks can be controlled independently of each other, with stone hearth slabs supplied as standard.