Fast casual restaurants are quickly becoming one of the most popular foodservice segments, especially among young consumers. While burgers have always been popular in the segment, and chains with fresh, artisanal or organic items are gaining more market share, one other category is trying to push its way to the top: pizza.
The pizza restaurant industry generates $39 billion in annual revenue in the U.S., according to IBIS World and other sources. However, research from The NPD Group shows growth has been slow, as the industry increased only 0.2% from 2010-2015. People are still eating pizza (1 in 8 Americans consumes pizza on any given day according to USDA), so what is causing the industry to stall? One possibility is health concerns. A study in Pediatrics found pizza is a source of additional calories, saturated fat and sodium in children's diets and researchers called for a reduction in kid's pizza consumption. Also, the industry has had to shift its target consumer from males to other demographics who are actually consuming more pizza, such as women, Millennials, and girls between the ages of 6 and 19.
While large, established chains like Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's account for 25% of the pizza restaurant industry's sales, that still leaves space for other companies to move in. Sbarro recently emerged from bankruptcy protection and plans to undergo a large branding overhaul. It will shift its focus from food courts and mall outlets to standalone locations with delivery service. It is also updating its menu to have more fresh, quality ingredients and remodeling stores with a simpler, sleeker look.
Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza has also been busy trying to gain market share, hoping to capitalize on the build-your-own trend made popular by chains like Chipotle. Diners customize their pizza in an assembly-line format and then wait a few minutes for it to be finished in a rapid-cook oven. The chain opened in 2012 and it plans to open 85 to 135 restaurants each year, hoping to reach 1,000 locations before it turns 10. It also expanded into Canada, with plans to open 60 restaurants in the country.