Staying on top(pings)

Consumers are looking for variety in their food choices, and by offering a variety of toppings for your pizzas you are catering to that quest.

Three years ago we brought you a guide to profiting from pizza toppings. We thought it would be a good idea to revisit a few things related to toppings including what’s new, how to get your customers to try new toppings and how to control portions for profit.

Trends

I’m always seeing press releases from some of the bigger chains announcing a new pizza with specialty toppings. It seems that the industry is experimenting more, trying to be “different” from everyone else. Customers want to try something new now and then. You may already have signature pies on your menu, but if you don’t, the time to do it is now. Signature or specialty pies are typically topped with higher food cost items such as chicken, sausage and seafood. Because you have a higher food cost you can charge more for the pizza by calling it signature or specialty.

Gourmet pizza topping combinations are popping up everywhere from Papa John’s current Spinach Alfredo Chicken and Tomato special to the gyro pizza craze on the West Coast that sprang up when the 2004 Olympics were held in Greece. According to Liz Hertz, Burke Corporation’s marketing manager, three trends in toppings right now are the gyro flavor or using Greek seasonings to flavor meat toppings, Andouille flavored toppings and chorizo flavored toppings. Andouille is a Cajun smoked sausage. There is a general trend widespread across the country in Cajun flavorings for pizza. Chorizo is a Spanish sausage that is flavored in degrees of spiciness. It’s been a good way for people to introduce something new on the Hispanic front or to add spice. Liz says that operators can also use this spicy meat with Caribbean spices as a new flavor for pizzas. It’s also being used in the Southwest, going along with the TexMex trend. Liz says these trends have all started on the West Coast and moved east. “The interest in the more exotic toppings starts on the West Coast where they are always looking for something different,” Liz says.


Chicken is an old standby that can be manipulated in so many different ways. Some of the newer flavors in chicken as a gourmet topping are a spicy Thai chicken pizza, chicken with a white sauce and a garlic chicken pizza. Bacon is another staple that has regained popularity lately. According to Liz, bacon is so hot right now that the suppliers are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. Bacon was out of favor for years because of the fat content. “I think because people have gradually gone more towards the low-carb type diet, bacon is once again okay,” Liz says. “People aren’t afraid of bacon anymore.”

With the recent interest in health such as the low-carb trend, operators are asking about the carb content of toppings. One selling point for toppings is that they are mostly low in carbs whether the topping is a vegetable or meat. By adding a low-carb crust, you can urge your customers to pile on more toppings to compensate for the thinner, less flavorful crusts. Vegetables and mushrooms are also hot items with the health craze. For ideas, see the article in the September/ October issue on mushrooms at https://www.pmq.com/mag/2004september_october/mushrooms.php

Traditional toppings such as pepperoni, sausage and hamburger still continue to dominate pizza sales, but you can come up with new combinations using some of the ideas above to increase your profits. Look to your distributor for help with this. They can give you recipes and flavor combinations that will aid you in adding the trendy flavors to your menu. Liz recommends that you add the new toppings or pizzas as a special feature on a limited basis, at first, so you can see what the appeal is before you make it a permanent addition to your menu.

Get Your Customers Interested in New Toppings

Most people usually order the same thing every time they want a pizza. It’s usually a one-topping or two-topping pie with safe options like pepperoni and sausage. How do you get customers to try your higher profit signature items? It’s going to take a little effort on your part. You need to make them aware of your new toppings or pizzas. Plaster the inside of your restaurant with the information whether it’s a chalkboard advertising your new Cajun crawfish pizza or a table tent you get from your distributor. Don’t forget the power of suggestive selling. Have your workers ask customers if they would like to try your new pie or topping.

Speaking of distributors, this is a great place to start when looking for marketing ideas. Often times, they offer free materials such as table toppers, posters, photographs and menu inserts to get people trying more of your product: when you have more orders they have more orders.

Another thing to do is follow the Papa John’s model. They’ve made a brand based on their “Better Pizza, Better Ingredients” slogan. Many of their commercials are about their specialty pizza of the moment. They make it loud and clear that they’ve got something new going on. Even if you don’t add anything new to your menu, you need to tell your customers about it. They don’t always know you offer a Hawaiian jerk chicken pizza. Maybe you only use fresh vegetables, nothing canned. Make it part of your slogan. Put it on everything: box toppers, menus, receipts, anything your customers will see.

One of the best ways to let your customers know about your toppings and unique flavors is to let them try it. Everyone likes to try free food. Let’s say you want to add a taco pizza to your menu. Make one up and cut it into bite-sized pieces on a Saturday night. Get out on the floor and tell them about it and let them try it. You’re sure to get a response and will probably get customers requesting it every time they come in, just because you gave them the opportunity to sample the pie.

Let’s say you’re not sure how good a response the new Andouille sausage you ordered will fare. You love it, but aren’t sure whether it will be a hit with the customers. Put a sampler tray out on the counter with toothpicks. Again no one can resist a free sample. Take it a step further and make up a comment card. While they wait for their takeout order, ask the customer to give you their comments on your new topping. Gather several of these and use them in your decision of whether or not to order the product again. Also, ask for suggestions on what types of toppings your customers want to see on your menu when they fill in the comment card. This is another way you can get your distributor to help you. Ask them if they will give you a sample case of the new topping for free. It costs you nothing to experiment.

A Word About Portions

Just as with the cheese everyone is watching ever so carefully these days, it’s important to measure your toppings. By not measuring these often times higher food cost items, you could be throwing money away. Make sure to educate your staff on the way the pizzas are to be made with the proper amounts. Not only does this control cost, but it also gives you a consistent product. Consistency is key in providing the best quality product to your customers.