DiGiorno rises to meet challenges facing the frozen pizza category

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: DiGiorno
Source: DiGiorno

Related tags: Flavor

The frozen pizza category has been on ice the past few years with slipping sales attributed in part to the category’s image as highly processed and unhealthy, as well as a recovering economy that has allowed consumers to go out more for “fresh” pizza. 

But frozen pizza category leader DiGiorno is not deflated by these trends – rather, it is rising to the challenge, just like it did 20 years ago when it launched its Original Rising Crust that revolutionized how consumers viewed and experienced frozen pizza.

The current landscape

Sales of frozen pizza have declined 12% from 2010-2014, with the percentage of households buying frozen pizza during this period contracting 3%, according to market analysis by Packaged Facts​. Market research from Mintel adds that the $5.5 billion category is unlike to see a turnaround any time soon with sales predicted to remain flat through 2019.

In a blog post​ earlier this year, Mintel blames the stagnation on consumers “trading up and out of retail pizza, to more expensive delivery and food service options,”​ as a result of the US economy “looking brighter.”​ 

Packaged Facts adds​ that “health and wellness trends focusing on ‘real food’ ingredients and clean eating have negative implications for frozen pizza, given its association as a highly processed convenience food.”​ 

DiGiorno rises to today’s challenges

For DiGiorno, which is marking its 20th year on the market, the current trends are nothing new and certainly are not insurmountable, according to one of the brand's creators.

Similar to the current trends, “when we developed our Original Rising Crust pizza [in 1996], the category was flat … [and] pan and hand-tossed carryout pizza were the gold standard,”​ said baking expert Frank Cole, who helped create DiGiorno and now serves as a pizza advisor for the brand and Nestle’s European pizza division lead.

But, he added, at the time, “my team and I saw an opportunity to develop an oven-ready pizza with a dough that rises to crust perfection, and a fresh-baked taste”​ that was unlike anything on store shelves then.

By using “the knowledge that the freshest taste comes baked from the freshest place – your oven,”​ the Original Rising Crust pizza helped DiGiorno pizza “become synonymous with its tagline, ‘It’s not delivery. It’s DiGiorno,”​ and “taught consumers to trust their oven; not delivery,”​ he added.

The innovation also helped propel the brand to the top of the frozen pizza category in the US with about $1.01 billion worth of sales in 2016, according to Statista. This is almost twice the sales of Red Baron, which comes in second with $597 million in sales in 2016, Statista data reveals​. 

Finding new product inspiration around the world

In the face of similar and evolving challenges in today’s market, DiGiorno continues to innovate to bring new crust forms and different flavors that will appeal to today’s more adventurous eaters, as well as everyday consumer palettes, Cole said.

“We’re always laser focused on trends inspired by restaurant menus (both on a national and global level) to create a diverse pizza portfolio that satisfies our consumers’ sense of exploration and discovery,”​ Cole said. “Our chefs and R&D specialists frequently travel on pizza trips to major food cities both in the US and abroad to observe new trends and techniques, translating what they see into inspiration for new DiGiorno pizza varieties.”

From these trips, Cole said, DiGiorno has identified “an exciting opportunity to innovate around heritage as well as new consumer expectations of freshness, organic, natural flavors, simple ingredients and enhanced nutritional value.”

In addition, he said, “we will look to specifically highlight our bakery expertise and demonstrate how our pizza pushes the need with our crust offerings.”

Improving nutrition while preserving taste

The brand also is striving to meet consumers’ evolving demand for healthier, more premium options by improving the nutritional profile of its products and helping educate consumers about how to enjoy its pizza as part of a well-balanced diet, Cole said.

“Even pizza enthusiasts like us believe in the importance of a balanced diet. At DiGiorno pizza, we feel everyone should approach their meal planning with balance, choosing to enjoy a variety of foods in moderation,​” Cole said.

That is why the brand provides a range of products “with the nutritional information clearly spelled out, to let consumers decide what’s best for them,”​ he said. “We also provide portion guidance to help consumers select the appropriate portion, and encourage them to pair their pizza with a salad, roasted veggies, fresh fruit and a glass of water.”

In addition, “as part of our commitment to make a better pizza, we reduced sodium across our entire portfolio of pizza brands last year, including DiGiorno pizza, by 10%”​ based on sales weighted line averages compared to 2013 sodium levels, and removed artificial flavors from all DiGiorno pizzas, Cole said.

Innovation offers high rewards but with some risk

Alongside the potential for an innovation to hit it out of the park, as in the case of Original Rising Crust pizza, comes some risk, Cole acknowledged.

“We experiment often with new ways to give consumers the same great DiGiorno pizza quality and fresh-baked taste they’ve come to love from their oven,”​ but some innovations are more successful than others, Cole said.

“Several years ago, we tried out a traditional Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza. Although a great product, and loved by people in Chicago, it was not as accepted by consumers in other parts of the country,”​ he explained. “We look at a number of things when measuring DiGiorno pizza success, most importantly, our delivery of quality to our consumers, but universal appeal is also a key element,” ​he added.

This flop aside, Cole said that overall DiGiorno has helped consumers “rise to the occasion”​ successfully for the past 20 years, making “it easier for consumers to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with their friends and family.”

Looking forward, he added that he hopes “our new pizza ideas will bring as much pleasure to consumers as DiGiorno pizza has in the past.”

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