Two classic staples for Friday night, or any night really, are getting makeovers. Among the newest options for consumers are beer that doesn’t taste like beer, frozen pizza that doesn’t taste like cardboard, and gas stations that bring a whole new meaning (and joy) to the term “filling up.”
Here are some top trends in pizza and beer:
“Artisan” pizza. To boost sales, the “artisan” label is being attached to pizza, as well as breakfast sandwiches, chips, and more. Domino’s has introduced an entire line of artisan pies, and the chain is so confident in its offerings that it’s announced that customers aren’t allowed to add or remove toppings from them.
“Fast casual” pizza. Inspired by the success of “fast casual” restaurants such as Chipotle and Panera Bread, mall staple Sbarro is trying out new made-to-order pasta dishes and tweaking pizza recipes, adjusting seasonings and using better cheese to make them more artisan-y. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, predicts that 800 Degrees, a pizzeria in Westwood backed by the same people as the popular Umami Burger, will one day become “a staple of every food court in America.” The formula for its success, and the reason lines are out the door for its pizza, is this: “high-quality pizza reformulated as fast-food — cheap, delicious, made with sustainably grown ingredients, infinitely customizable” that is “in and out of the ferociously hot wood-burning oven almost before you have gotten to the cash register.”
Store-brand frozen pizza that’s actually edible. Not long ago, the phrase “generic frozen pizza” probably called to mind a cardboard-like substance topped in Ragu and a white-ish cheese that tasted about as good as paper. Now, though, word has spread that store-brand foods score high in blind taste tests, and grocery chains such as Kroger and Safeway have been able to sell high-quality “premium” store-brand frozen pizzas, even though they’re not that much cheaper than the better-known brands. The Associated Press recently noted that “no-name” supermarket brands are also more likely to be made with top-notch organic ingredients, and unusual products such as Whole Foods’ frozen pesto pizza are popping up.
Ordering pizza online. Last December, Domino’s took more than 1 million digital orders in a single week for the first time ever, as more and more Americans became comfortable ordering pizzas without picking up the phone.
More pizza consumption overall. The research firm Technomic reveals that 41% of consumers now eat pizza at least once a week, compared to just 26% two years ago. All methods of gathering pizza have increased, and now, at least once a month 49% of consumers buy pizza at supermarkets, 45% of consumers enjoy dine-in pizza, and 68% of consumers order carry-out pizza. That’s a lot of pizza.
More alcohol. After suffering from watered-down sales for years, mainstream beer makers are trying to stir up business by, among other things, introducing more upscale, stronger, and “manly” light beers such as Bud Light Platinum, which is 6% alcohol, compared to 4.2% in regular old Bud Light.
Beer that doesn’t taste like beer. When did beer become the new wine cooler? An iced-tea flavored Coors Light has hit the market, and Anheuser-Busch is rolling out everything from a margarita-flavored Bud Light to ciders and tea-and-lemonade concoctions under the Michelob brand.
Seasonal brews. Samuel Adams and many small craft breweries have put out seasonal ales and lagers for years, and now, the big boys are following suit: Blue Moon, owned by MillerCoors, and Goose Island, owned by Anheuser-Busch, are both ramping up limited-time seasonal brews.
Craft beer in a can. While overall beer sales have remained stagnant, craft beer sales have boomed, rising 15% last year. Craft beers have gotten so popular that, according to the Boston Globe, small breweries believe that customers will continue to buy their premium product even if it comes in a can. Harpoon Brewery and the Wachusett Brewing Company are among the players putting serious money and effort into canning their beers.
Filling up (on craft beer) at gas stations. CNBC reported that a Craft Beer Exchange pilot program offered by Sunoco stations in western New York—which allows customers to fill up big jugs called growlers with a choice of craft beer—is expanding to more than a dozen locations in South Carolina. To cope with $4-per-gallon gasoline, many drivers probably need a beer. Just not when they’re driving, hopefully.