Trend Feast

Elevated Pizza Takes Flavor to New Heights

Sep 27, 2023

Elevated Pizza Takes Flavor to New Heights

Pizza as we know it can be traced back to 1500s Naples, Italy, as it was in abundance to feed the many peasants settling into the town.1 Hundreds of years later, while pizza continues to do its job of feeding folks, today’s offerings seek to step it up a few notches for more upscale consumers.

In more affluent parts of Italy, for example, flatbread fans may order Pizza Louis XIII from world-renowned chef Renato Viola. His luxury pies will set diners back €11,840, or $12,000, for a delight made with organic flour and topped with three types of caviar, plus prawns, lobster and squilla mantis, a Mediterranean shrimp. If that’s not enough, Renato and his team travel to the guest’s home and serve the pizza with Louis XIII Remy Martin, Krug champagne and a rare brandy. How’s that for delivery?

While the pizza experience at Chateau Carbide won’t cost customers a few mortgage payments, their quality is indeed superior, says chef Jeffery Vucko, who operates the glamorous rooftop destination inside the Pendry Chicago hotel. His updated take is the pissaladiere, or Provencal French flatbread pizzas, with a three-day fermented dough.

“Our high-temperature Ooni pizza ovens allow us to get a nice rise on the dough with some great color on the crust achieved only in a roaring hot oven,” Vucko explains. The pissaladiere are topped with premium ingredients such as caramelized onion, anchovies, Niçoise olives, fresh herbs from Chateau Carbide’s small rooftop garden and other accents sourced from the local market.

“Every weekend, we create a new exciting pizza using fresh, seasonal offerings from Green City Market, a farmer’s market with some of the best produce in the city,” Vucko says. “Of course, we leave the cheese part to the French, incorporating selections like brie, chèvre and more creamy alpine varieties."

Notice how he didn’t mention any proteins? Plant-forward pizzas are hotter than ever, according to consumer market insight firm Datassential. With ingredients like Buffalo cauliflower (+11% over the past two years), cauliflower (+533% over the past 4 years, yet mostly as a crust), sweet potatoes (+12%) and potatoes (9%), vegetables are gaining momentum.2 Establishments like Domino’s, Pizza Hut and New York’s Il Mattone Tribeca (cauliflower crust) and Noori Chicken in Annandale, Virginia (sweet potatoes) are some who have embraced this trend.

Oh, kale no—yet some want better-for-you ingredients on elevated pizzas

Surprisingly, however, kale is only on 2% of restaurant menu pizzas or flatbreads.3 Nevertheless, there’s an explanation for that as well, the experts at Datassential say.

“Although 40% see the dish as an indulgence, another 40% express interest specifically in better-for-you pizzas,” Datassential says. “Healthy superfoods like avocado, kale and arugula are among the fastest ingredients currently growing on pizza menus, too. Bottom line: If a pizza is delicious, many consumers will love it, regardless of if they view it as good for them or not.” 4

In the end, both indulgent and healthier pizzas score big with restaurant-goers, with 35% on the fence between these two sentiments.5

“This finding is reflected, to some degree, among the ‘Mega Trends’ currently happening around pizza,” says Datassential. “Pizzas featuring stuffed crust as well as takes on global and regional varieties hold the most consumer appeal, outranking pies positioned as better-for-you or agreeable to certain diets like veganism or gluten-free.”

‘Za giant Papa John’s is one that excels in the stuffed crust department. Its Epic Stuffed Crust pizza comes loaded with dripping cheese inside. That’s the original flavor, then there’s also Garlic Epic Stuffed Crust and Spicy Garlic Epic Stuffed Crust. They are both served with a spicy garlic dipping sauce.

Unconventional plant-forward pies that may raise an eyebrow, yet intrigue consumers, are also on trend, according to Datassential. For instance, infused olive oil is in adoption with about two-thirds of consumers aware. Of the 41% who have tried it, two-thirds have affinity for it. Also, garlic-infused sauces have grown 12% over the past year on pizza menus.6

The Holy Shiitake Pie at Mellow Mushroom in Atlanta is a great example. It boasts an olive oil and garlic base, topped with shiitake, button and portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, mozzarella and Wisconsin aged white cheddar, then finished with a garlic aioli swirl and a spritz of black truffle oil.

And even more offbeat is The Original Pickle Pizza at Bob’s Pizza in Chicago. This peculiar pie comes loaded with Mortadella, house dill pickles, garlic cream sauce, house-blend cheese and fresh dill. It apparently works because it’s the top-selling item at all four locations in the Chicago area.

‘Mash-up’ elevated pizzas appeal to men, millennials

Flatbreads used to be unique on menus, but now they’re everywhere, from diners to sports bars to higher-end establishments. Datassential calls it the “proliferation stage.”7

The data research firm explains: “No longer the trend it once was, setting the stage for up-and-coming pizza styles, flatbreads are now a staple of many menus and are most commonly the way pizza shows up as an appetizer.

“Flatbreads appeal most to males and millennials. Flatbreads are offered by over a third of operators, and that many plan to offer in the future.”

Yet another big trend Datassential views as in excess is the mash-up concept in pizzas and flatbreads. These also appeal to mostly men and millennials, featuring such staples as Buffalo chicken, BBQ chicken, cheeseburger, cheesesteak and global fusions. From Pizza Hut to regional favorites like Giordano’s, these mega trends appear on most menus that are pizza focused.

The mash-up concept is much more interesting when there’s a global component to it. Some of the hottest global fusions are:

  • Mexican-inspired pizza (2% on pizza menus in the last year; menued most in the QSR segment with 11% menu penetration)
  • Greek wedge pizza (on nearly a quarter of QSR pizza menus; of 29% who have tried it, two-thirds have affinity for it)
  • Indian-inspired flatbreads (up 39%)8

The latter is a Bay Area staple, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and has been since 1996.8 Zante Pizza & Indian Cuisine was the pioneer, offering pies topped with the likes of roasted cauliflower, paneer, tandoori chicken, eggplant and prawns. It was followed by places like Kinara Fusion Kitchen, Curry Pizza House and Curry Up Now —which uses kulcha (white flour-based flatbread) instead of pizza crust for its Naughty Naan and tops it with tikka masala sauce, mozzarella and jalapeño, plus a choice of chicken or paneer.

Talk about a slice of inspiration.

If you're feeling inspired to create some unique pizza offerings of your own, have a look at these pizza recipes from the Simplot Culinary Team:

Chicken Souvlaki Pizza
Roasted Garlic oil is the base for this Greek-inspired pizza. Topped with chicken Souvlaki, roasted garlic, roasted zucchini, and feta, then finished with julienne fries, tzatziki sauce and fresh oregano.
View Recipe »

Butter Curry Pizza
This all-veggie pizza has an Indian-inspired butter curry base, riced cauliflower, fire-roasted corn and jalapeños, roasted root vegetables and paneer cheese. Serve it with chutney and green onions.
View Recipe »

Al Pastor Pizza
A hearty Mexican-inspired pizza with a Mojo Rojo sauce topped with tender al pastor pork, grilled pineapple, roasted red peppers and onions, pickled pearl onions and a fresh cilantro garnish.
View Recipe »

Sweet Cherry and Peach Fruit Pizza
This pizza really satisfies your sweet tooth with a honey ricotta base, grilled peaches, Amaretto dark cherries, raspberry crumbles, candied orange and chopped pistachios.
View Recipe »

For more on the latest trends and recipes for Fall/Winter 2023-24, download our new Trend Feast Guide.

1 Reader’s Digest, “Who Invented Pizza?”
2-8 Datassential: ReportPro, MenuTrends, and Consumer Preferences, 2023
9 San Francisco Chronicle, “Indian pizza is a Bay Area staple: But is a really great one out there?”