The long absence revealed new opportunities in the pizza business
International Pizza Expo 2021 staged after a staggering 29 months without the pizzeria industry’s No. 1 trade show. So much has happened in that time, from a worldwide pandemic to a devastating worker shortage. The uncertainty has weighed heavy on pizzeria operators across the country. Pizza professionals were eager to get back to find new ideas, research and purchase products and come together as a pizza family.
We looked at some emerging pizza industry trends from Pizza Expo 2021. There are a few overarching themes that resonated throughout the show floor and education halls at this year’s show that cannot be overlooked.
Community, not competition
The pizzeria industry is unlike any other in business. The camaraderie and collaboration between pizzeria professionals are the most valuable assets of the industry. Being together as a pizzeria community was among the top reasons attendees came to the show. After a long absence of gathering, the energy was electric. Attendees wanted to see their pizza friends and family.
The time is now to innovate
Pizza Expo is the ultimate motivator to kick new ideas into motion. Many operators on the show floor were coming off record sales and were eager to invest in their businesses. Others were looking for ways to bounce back from the COVID-19 shutdowns and its impact. Both were on site ready to instill change in their operations. Exhibitors answered their calls with the launch of several new products that debuted on the show floor.
Knowledge is power
Operators were eager to be in person to soak up as much knowledge as they could whether it was in the education seminars, demonstrations or exhibitor presentations. The seminar halls saw less people surfing between sessions. Instead operators were glued to their seats to hear fellow pizzeria profs share strategies and tips.
Hot Trends in the exhibit hall
Large international industry events like Pizza Expo give attendees the opportunity to see what’s trending and what’s on the horizon. The show floor is a great metric to see where the industry is going. Pizza Expo didn’t disappoint to give a glimpse into the hot trends happening in the restaurant and specifically the pizza market.
Based on experiencing the show floor and talking to pizzeria operators, we noticed common threads and rising products that made their mark on Pizza Expo 2021.
The biggest and most noticeable trend on the show floor was the abundance of plant-based products, everything from cheese to meat alternatives. There were companies that specifically specialize in plant-based. This year, we also saw major industry meat and cheese providers launch new plant-based products on the show floor.
The plant-based options available have come a long way. There were cheese and meat products like mozzarella, pepperoni and meatballs that mimicked the real thing impressively well. The texture, feel and taste were on point.
The trend mirrors national statistics. Plant-based sales have seen a huge jump recently. The Plant Based Food Association reports that plant-based retail sales have grown 27 percent to a $7 billion market.
Dietary restriction options
Gluten-free options have been a sustained trend on the show floor for the past several years and continues to be a noted trend. Keto-friendly was a new trend that seems to be gaining ground with Keto-friendly pizza dough alternatives.
Labor tech and automation
The worker shortage is impacting the way restaurants do business. Exhibitors were ready with innovative products to help ease labor struggles and facilitate the execution of repetitive tasks. Kitchen equipment that helps do the prep work for your staff were busy booths.
Automation opportunities were abundant on the show floor, from prep work, sauce application, sheeters and dough presses to full robotic automation. We witnessed a completely automated robotic topping of a pizza that could make 100 dressed pizzas per hour.
Exhibitors also addressed customer-facing labor shortages with self-use options like self-serve kiosks and self-pour beverage systems, including alcohol, beer and wine.
Even oven technology has been developed to aid the labor strain. The sophistication in today’s ovens is remarkable, from rotating ovens to multi-level programmable ovens. They are taking the guess work out of oven operation. These ovens are made to support cross-trained employees to easily operate with minimal training.
Carryout and delivery are top of mind
There was a concentrated emphasis on the execution and growth of carryout and delivery business, from new delivery bag technology to holding stations for carryout. We also noticed several POS integration potentials with third-party providers.
COVID-19 protocols are a part of daily operations. POS providers highlighted features like contactless payments and curbside functions.
Today’s restaurants are changing. As you plan for the growth of your business, how will you be able to capitalize on these emerging trends? If you missed watching or tasting these latest trends at Pizza Expo 2021, you’re in luck. Pizza Expo 2022 is just around the corner. Make notes and do your research on how plant-based options, kitchen automation or a number of the other products can help your business. Then come to Pizza Expo in Las Vegas on March 22-24 to see these trends live and person.
Denise Greer is Executive Editor of Pizza Today.