Plant-based is one of the biggest trends in America's favorite food. Increasingly, cauliflower crust, vegan mozzarella, and plant-derived pepperoni are replacing the cheesy, meaty, greasy version of pizza of the past. But why are plant-based pizza sales on the rise?
Plant-based options are increasingly attractive to everyone, not just vegetarians. Plant-based pizza is healthy comfort food with lots of new options available at home and at restaurants. COVID-19 may have also had an effect on the increase in plant-based pizza sales.
Here's what you need to know about why plant-based sales are growing and how restaurants are taking advantage of the trend to market plant-based pizzas.
Think that meat eaters turn up their noses at plant-based options when it comes to pizza? Think again. According to Numerator, 70% of people who try a plant-based meat alternative are trying to eat healthier, while 45% are simply curious.
Only 11% of shoppers purchasing plant-based meat alternatives were vegetarians. Today's consumers are more interested in plant-based living than ever before, whether or not they’re ready to take a plunge into vegetarianism or veganism.
While previously the plant-based pizza market primarily catered to vegetarians, now plant-based foods of all kinds, including pizza, appeal to the majority of Americans. A consumer may order a pizza with plant-derived pepperoni and vegan cheese for dinner one night and have a steak the next. This is a sharp shift from how the typical consumer used to behave around meat replacement products.
For consumers who are craving the comfort food they love but are also trying to eat healthier, vegetarian pizza is the perfect solution. The more stress people experience, the more likely they are to seek out favorite comfort foods. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumers were asked what they wanted from restaurants, pizza was the first choice for 63% of them.
At the same time, over half of consumers are looking for plant-based foods because they’re avoiding overly processed foods and meats and searching for healthier options. Plant-based pizza is an obvious solution. Vegetarian pizza satisfies comfort food cravings without leaving you feeling guilty about making an unhealthy decision.
Consumers trying to prepare healthy food quickly and easily at home often turn to grocery store plant-based pizza freezer meals. Well over half of the US population consumes freezer pizzas, which is around 200 million people. It's no surprise that many of these people are experimenting with vegetable-based frozen pizza options. For instance, 46% of consumers said they would likely or definitely buy California Pizza Kitchen Crispy Thin Crust Plant Based BBQ Recipe Pizza, which is topped with plant-based chicken.
Frozen pizzas are quick, easy, tasty, and healthy. Unlike many other meat alternative options which require a good deal of preparation and planning, plant-based pizzas are ready in only a few minutes with no preparation other than taking them out of the package and putting them in the oven.
As COVID-19 reached markets across the globe, the pandemic correlated with an increase in plant-based pizza sales, which likely happened for a number of reasons. Sales of plant-derived and plant-based products increased by as much as 450% at grocery stores compared to non-pandemic years. While conventional meat sales increased as well, they did so at much lower rates, around 40% or 50%.
Exactly why this happened is debatable, but it's easy to theorize some of the reasons that COVID-19 may have increased plant-based pizza sales:
Did more plant-based options encourage more people to seek out vegan and vegetarian pizza, or did the demand for vegan and vegetarian products cause the increase? Regardless, choices in plant-based pizza are on the rise.
At the Pizza Expo of 2021, one of the biggest trends on the floor was the number of plant-based products. Cheese and meat imitators for mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage and meatballs were plentiful and delicious.
Large existing meat and cheese companies and smaller new businesses specializing in plant-based alternatives are competing to develop plant-based meats and cheeses with a texture, taste, and general experience that is more like the real thing. In fact, many pizzerias are beginning to realize that if they aren't offering a meat alternative pizza, they're missing out on a valuable market and failing to compete.
Eating is a deeply social activity. People considering making dietary changes often have some anxiety about how they'll eat socially. Plant-based pizza is one of the easiest ways to begin integrating vegetarian eating into your everyday life.
Many restaurants offer both meat and meat alternative pizza options, enabling everybody in a group to get just what they want. It’s simple to choose just how plant-based you want your pizza to be.
Pick vegan cheese but real meat, plant-derived meat but real cheese, a plant-based crust with real meat and cheese, or just about any other combination. Because pizzas are made to order and constructed to the tastes of the consumer, it's easy for prospective vegetarians to wade in slowly rather than take a plunge into a new way of eating.
Furthermore, the strong and diverse tastes of pizza toppings blend nicely with plant-based bread and cheese products, making it much easier to enjoy the new flavors and textures.
Restaurants are taking advantage of the surge in plant-based pizza demand in creative and delicious ways. Restaurant owners are realizing that throwing some vegetarian options onto the list of toppings isn't enough to increase sales of plant-based pizza.
Instead, they need to actively market plant-based pizzas. They're getting creative with pizza topping combinations designed to work well with plant-based ingredients, clever marketing tactics, and encouraging customers to try pizzas made of blended conventional and plant-based ingredients.
Here are some examples of restaurants offering plant-based pizza options and how they're doing it:
San Francisco's Pizza My Heart paired plant-based pepperoni with strong flavors like roasted garlic, fresh mushrooms, and spicy peppers to make this a pizza that vegetarians and meat lovers alike will relish. They marketed it in a week-long campaign, during which 25% of plant-based pie sales were donated to the local Humane Society and SPCA.
Pizza My Heart saw a surprising number of hybrid orders. Perhaps vegetarians chose plant-based pepperoni but dairy cheese or lactose intolerant customers ordered real meat with vegan cheese. Allowing customers to choose exactly what combination of vegetarian or conventional ingredients they want enabled sales that Pizza My Heart management never anticipated.
The chain pizzeria Sarpino's did a promotional deal offering a pizza with half plant-based and half regular pepperoni at a discounted price. The idea was that once people tried the plant-based pepperoni, they’d order it again.
This pizza was in the top 10 sold while the promotion ran, and plant-based pepperoni was a frequent topping order afterward. The experiment was so successful that Sarpino’s built an entirely vegan menu.
Caliente Pizza & Draft House tried out plant-derived cheese and pepperoni on their vegan and meat-eating staff. Everyone was amazed by how similar it was to the real thing in texture, taste, and appearance.
Caliente highlights the vegan pepperoni and cheese in a simple pie with red sauce and basil. However, the restaurant is planning to introduce other options like plant-based sausage since the current options are selling so well.
The Toppers Pizza chain based in Wisconsin unveiled a whole vegan-friendly menu in 2020. They did so to take advantage of the increased options of plant-based meat like pork and chicken. Once they saw that four of the ten fastest growing ingredients in pizzas are plant-based, they knew they had to make the leap into a plant-based menu.
A shift is occurring between the old concept of plant-based foods as animal product alternatives to plant-based being a category all its own. Pizza is poised to take full advantage of this shift.
Plant-based pizza sales are exploding, but it's probable that this is just the beginning. We'll likely continue to see plant-based sales in pizza continue to rise for years to come. Plant-based meat, cheese, and crust are all getting closer to the real thing every day. Now that plant-based pizza is delicious enough to attract even non-vegetarians, there's no limit to how far it can go.
Whether you are all in on plant-based options or prioritize more classic meat and cheese toppings at your pizzeria, chances are you need a point of sale system able to keep pace with business operations and customer demands.
We suggest looking no further than Revel Systems®, the leading cloud-native POS and business management platform on the market. Our platform just so happens to be used and loved by major players in the pizza industry, including Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, Pizza King, Sauce on the Side, Pizza Ranch, Westside Pizza, and more.
If you want to see how Revel can help your pizzeria, request a free demo today!