Three Billion Pizzas Sold Annually

Pizza. Americans can't get enough of it. It's estimated that three billion pizzas are sold annually in the U.S. That's 23 pounds per man, woman and child.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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A pizza parlor waitress asked baseball legend Yogi Berra whether he wanted his pizza cut into six or eight slices. "Six, please," he replied. "I'm not hungry enough to eat eight." Sports icons aren't alone in their love of pizza. Children between the ages of 3 and 11 prefer pizza to all other foods for lunch and dinner.

Whether you like it thin or thick, delivered or picked up, or even popping out of the toaster, pizza is major comfort food. It's convenient, affordable, filling and appeals to all ages and ethnicities.

Antica Pizzeria Port Alba (Naples, Italy), the world's first-known pizzeria, opened in 1830 and is still in business. Patrons, however, ate their pizza - topped with mushrooms and anchovies - in the streets. As pizza became more popular, stalls were set up and soon became open-air places for people to eat, drink, and talk.

It was Raffaele Esposito, a Neapolitan baker, who baked the most illustrious pizza in history: In summer 1889, he created a pizza for the Italian monarch King Umberto and his consort, Queen Margherita. In order to impress them with his patriotic fervor, Raffaele chose to top flat bread with ingredients representing the colors of the Italian flag: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese and green basil. The King and Queen were duly impressed, word spread, and pizza was off and rolling.

Italian immigrants to America at the turn of the 20th century brought pizza with them, building commercial bakeries for pizza and focaccia. "The ingredients these immigrants found in their new country differed from those in the old," says John Mariani, author of The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway Press). "In New York there was no buffalo-milk mozzarella, so cow's milk mozzarella was used; oregano - a staple southern Italian herb - was replaced with sweet marjoram; and American tomatoes, flour- even water- were different. Here, pizza evolved into a large, sheet-like pie, perhaps eighteen inches or more in diameter, reflecting the abundance of the new country."

Gennaro Lombardi opened the first U.S. pizzeria in New York on Spring Street in 1905. In Italian communities around the city, others quickly followed. "Still, pizza and pizzerias were little known outside the large cities of the East until after World War II, when returning American GIs brought back a taste for the pizzas they had eaten in Naples," says Mariani.

Big Wheel Goes Round... Or Rectangle

It wasn't until the 1950s that Americans really started their love affair with pizza. Over time, distinct styles of American pizza emerged. A thin-crust pizza, commonly called "East Coast" or "New York" style, is made with just a few toppings, as with pizza made in Naples. The crust of thick- or double-crust pizza, also called "West Coast" style, serves as a foundation for a larger number of toppings. Other unique American pizzas include deep dish, or "Chicago style" pizza originated at Pizzeria Uno by Ike Sewell in 1943, and California or "gourmet" pizza introduced by Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. in 1980.

TOP OF THE WORLD

Pizza toppings vary around the world (and even around the country) reflecting regional preferences. A pie may be topped simply with cheese, tomatoes and herbs or piled high with any combination of ingredients, exotic or ordinary.

Some interesting toppings around the world include eel and squid in Japan; curry spices in Pakistan; and shrimp and pineapple in Australian. In Russia, the topping of choice is herring, and in Costa Rica you can even find pizzas topped with coconut. But the preferred topping in America is pepperoni.

The multibillion dollar pizza industry encompasses every aspect of meal availability: frozen, delivered, chains and single-unit "mom and pop" facilities. "This humble street food has, in little over 100 years, become the status food of current times" asserts trend expert for Pizza Today Pasquale "Pat" Bruno Jr.

Looking into his crystal ball, Bruno sees coming frozen pizza trends to include grilled pizza, pizzas with seafood toppings and white pizza taking a big market bite out of red pies. Bruno expects rustic pies will hit a nerve as comfort foods, and he sees the shape of pies to move toward rectangular or oval. There's still potential for significant growth in the frozen pizza category. Total pizza sales are nearly $26 billion, with carry out/delivery representing some $14 billion and frozen at almost $3 billion.

Low-carb was the biggest pizza trend in 2003. Even with the low-carb frenzy, the $2.6-billion frozen pizza industry grew 2.8 percent for the 52 weeks ended October 31, 2004, according to Information Resources Inc. Other trends were the use of hot sauces and barbecue sauces in packaged pizza.

Impeding Delivery

New product innovation helped stem a decline of frozen pizza sales at Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill. Kraft's DiGiorno - the top-selling frozen pizza (and the first rising-crust frozen pizza) - attracted new customers to the category starting in 1995, when frozen pizza sales were down around $1.5 billion a year. Kraft's recent extension of DiGiorno, Kraft's Rising Crust Microwave Pizza, is an "oven-quality" pizza. Frozen before it has completely risen, it finishes rising in the oven. It includes a cooking tray and crisping ring that promises to keep the crust crunchy and the inside tender.

When Schwan's Consumer Brands North America, Marshall, Minn., decided to bring its frozen pizza up to the level of restaurant quality, it formed the Freschetta Culinary Council, a working chef advisory board including: Tony Mantuano of Spaggia in Chicago, Robert McGrath of Roaring Fork in Scottsdale, Ariz., Joe Miller of Joe's in Los Angeles, Daniele Baliani of Pignoli in Boston, and Italian-born Walter Potenza of Aquaviva Eurobistro in Providence, R.I.
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