There’s a pizza meme going around of the brutal scene in Casino where Joe Pesci is forced to watch his brother get whacked. However, instead of his brother, it’s pineapple going on pizza. The point of the meme is to show how traumatic it is to any true Italian Pizza aficionado to see pineapple “ruin” a pizza. It made me laugh when I saw it, but the next thing I thought was: I’ve made a lot of money on pineapple in the last decade.
Now if you’re reading this magazine, you are in this industry and know that pineapple on pizza is something that a broad base of customers want and enjoy. It’s not even that crazy of a topping when you think about it. It’s a yellow fruit, same as a yellow bell pepper. Whether you agree with the worthiness of pineapple to be a real topping, it doesn’t matter. Owning a pizzeria is about making a profit through great and multi-faceted options that progress your brand. If you push that your brand has ZERO PINEAPPLE TOLERNACE, there is marketability to that purist approach. That means if you’re not going to carry anything Avant Garde, you should say that. Otherwise it’s just a wasted opportunity.
Restaurants that can avoid all eclectic toppings are restaurants built on being classic pizzerias in every sense of the word. And while there’s a nostalgia about that style of restaurant, it is by definition stagnant. Unless you’re rolling deep in cash, that style of restaurant is not your most profitable pursuit. Advancing the game with new and exciting styles of pizza that give your customers something new to enjoy for the more adventurous palate (along with the classics) is a prudent financial choice. Pineapple is not a new industry trend that will break down culinary barriers.
In the last 20 years, there have been many growth spurts of popular styles or items that have come to fruition. Barbecue pizza in the mid to late 90s progressed to different variations of pasta on pizza in the last 10 years. The new trends are taking things that are just standard in other culinary fare and normalizing them to pizza.
Here are some top choices of up and coming toppings and how to maximize them at your pizzeria.
Pickled anything really. Sliced pickles, the classic cucumber version, or more interesting pickled vegetables are on the rise. They provide an extremely tart taste that is counterbalanced by a base cheese and accented best by the salty flavor of a cured meat like prosciutto or pancetta. At the same time, you could do it super basic and keep it with bacon instead.
You can choose basic or gourmet, from seasonal stalks to precut frozen. Roasted, not roasted, served with cotija cheese or cilantro makes it different, flavorful and fun. Using a topping like corn can maximize top of mind awareness and the “Oh, have you tried that new corn pizza at (blank) pizzeria,” that you want to optimize.
Gourmet Sliced Meats
Salami and Canadian bacon are perfectly fine meats, but they don’t provide a call to action. The goal is to wow the customer.
Soppressata and different versions of wine cured meats give your pizza a flair along with a sense of tradition that basic deli cuts won’t do.
Speck takes prosciutto and turns it into something even more refined. We smoke our own at Andolini’s and it is a heavy contributor to our fan base.
The benefit of having these more varied styles of meats goes beyond more topping options. This also allows you to have a great charcuterie board as a high-profit appetizer to additionally add to your menu mix.
Even pepperoni, which is a standard topping for most all pizzerias, can be achieved differently with a thick-cut cup-and-char that’s cut in house. It provides a more interesting texture than a classic pepperoni, and any pizzeria can do this. Even the ones that are never going to put pickles on a pizza.
Honey and the Sweetness
I’ve judged many different competitions at Pizza Expo. I’ve seen a trend in the last five years in the nontraditional competitions towards an abundance of spicy pizzas. I’ve seen the different spice levels and use various sources beyond cayenne, and overall just a lot spicier pizzas than there were 15 years ago. I don’t believe that spicy is dying off as much as I believe sweet accents such as honey are on the rise. Honey, agave, natural raw honey or the basic plastic bear are all on the rise. They can go on pizzas at the highest end pizzeria to the more acceptable mid-level slice house just as easily.
Most fruits for the last 15 years have been relegated to dessert pizzas if used at all, and to mention dessert pizza in several shops is verboten. Fruit is a huge category, but again when you talk base level flavor like sweet, savory and tart, fruit can be all three. Strawberries and pears coupled with goat cheese or ricotta with microgreens are all items that are on non-dessert pizzas now. The use of fruit on pizza isn’t solely in LA and the cuts of Brooklyn anymore.
You see they’re just like regular greens except these ones…..wait for it….. are micro.
Chalk this up to being a fad, or indulge it. It’s more presentable to have micro basil on some dishes than its larger counterpart. Basil, of course, being the multilateral topping that it is, can be used in several different ways. Microgreens are baby plants and should not be confused with sprouts. Their stems are significantly more edible than that of fully realized adult plants. Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, arugula, even garlic, all have microgreen options you can utilize on your menu.
CBD and Marijuana
CBD, devoid of any THC, infused into flour or as an additional topping with oil is buzz-worthy in the current social climate. Its actual effectiveness and or the necessity to use it culinarily is without question a fad. CBD infusions might go away, but CBD and THC products being an acceptable part of our culture is here to stay.
As the marijuana industry becomes more socially accepted and as more states legalize it, people are seeking ways to incorporate it into their lives. Where that’ll lead in the future is anyone’s guess. If you’re in a state that does sell marijuana legally, and use of marijuana matches brand, it’s totally within reason to utilize it. Not only that, promote it and maximize it for your financial gain.
I encourage you to experiment with these different toppings with your pizza. Have fun taking your recipes and brand to the next level while you give your customer base something new to try and talk about. It’s things like this that build your word of mouth advertising as well as your customer loyalty.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a frequent speaker at the International Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.