An uncomplicated combination of dough base, sauce and topping… part of pizza’s appeal is its simplicity. But after centuries of small but lip-smackingly tasty variations of the original, the humble pizza has changed with the times. Amid modern monstrosities like sausage and cheese-stuffed crusts, Nutella toppings and pizza burgers (er, thanks Dr. Oetker), the number of global gluten-free pizza launches has exploded in retail. The number of global gluten-free pizza launches nearly doubled between 2012 and 2014. Even Pizza Hut has started offering gluten-free options.

Gluten-free is fast becoming the norm in many households. Mintel’s Free-from UK 2014 report revealed that 13% of Brits now report avoidance of gluten in their household and Mintel’s Gluten-free Foods US 2014 report shows that 29% of Americans have eaten gluten-free versions of foods that typically contain gluten, so pizza makers have had to adapt to these changes.

Gluten-free pizzas: Frozen sector set to thaw?

96% of global gluten-free pizza launches were frozen and the 4% that were chilled were limited to just a few countries

But despite the introduction by manufacturers of authentic toppings, rising doughs and other quality traits to gluten-free pizzas, chilled gluten-free formats have been all but absent in retailers around the world. In 2014, a huge 96% of global gluten-free pizza launches were frozen and the 4% that were chilled were limited to just a few countries, in a very limited variety.

So why such a low offering of chilled gluten-free pizzas? Well, in addition to factors like lower demand for free-from and lower usage rates of refrigerated pizzas compared with frozen in many countries – the reason behind this low number is likely to relate to cost efficiency. Without the binding quality of gluten, a chilled gluten-free pizza is liable to turn biscuit-like and break after spending a few days on a store shelf.

Chilled options: A rare breed

Only a few companies around the world have brought a chilled gluten-free pizza to mass retail. Spanish free-from brand Sempreteca stocks its chilled pizzas across the country’s supermarkets, while in the US, Conte’s Pasta has been making Bake in Bag chilled pizzas for a few years now. These pizzas are packaged and then baked in the oven-proof bag, to avoid contamination from gluten products. While gluten-free bloggers have generally commended the taste and texture of bake-in-bag pizzas, the inability to see the pizza inside may deter some consumers. And chucking the pie in a bag is pretty far removed from traditional pizza baking methods, so unlikely to appeal to the connoisseurs.

pizzaLAB Pizza

One brand that has really caught our attention is Lab Pizza. A small company, based just north of London, Lab Pizza is fast gaining plaudits for making chilled pizzas which are gluten-free, organic and low in fat and salt content. On top of that, the base contains a ‘good bacteria’ which the company claims is probiotic-like and helps digestive function. Importantly, emphasis is placed on quality toppings, with Mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, Grana Padano, homemade guacamole and hickory-smoked BBQ Sauce among the toppings. Take THAT pizza burger.

In addition to a handful of Italian restaurants in London, the pizzas are available in Planet Organic stores and high-end department store Selfridges. The company claims to have spent many years perfecting the dough recipe and combination of flours to create an authentic pizza flavour and texture.

Potential for chilled expansion

One country in which offerings like LAB Pizza could prove popular is in Italy. The home of pizza itself is a relatively safe haven for consumers with gluten intolerance, as coeliac disease was recognised in Italy before most other countries and gluten-free food is generally easy to find in store.

When it comes to Italian consumers, 6% have eaten gluten-free pizza, which is relatively high compared with the 2% of French and German adults. However, despite the right dietary climate – all of the gluten-free pizzas launched in Italy in 2014 were frozen.

Just over one in 10 Italians have eaten chilled pizza, rising to 16% of consumers with children. This is low compared with the 63% of French adults who eat chilled pizza, but still marks a potential group for chilled gluten-free brands like Lab Pizza to consider targeting. There is wider interest in children’s pizzas in Italy, with 24% of Italian parents noting a lack of pizzas designed specifically for kids. And considering Italian children are tested for coeliac disease by the age of 6, and from the age of 10, coeliac sufferers receive a monthly stipend of €140 to spend on specific gluten-free foods, there are definite opportunities for gluten-free pizza for children in Italy.

What we think

Having barely existed a few years ago, we can now see chilled gluten-free pizzas emerging into retail – with the potential to lead to a new premium tier for coeliac and wheat reducers to engage with. There are many opportunities to explore innovations, for example the bake-in-bag concept is yet to be fully explored by free-from companies beyond the US, suggesting an alternative means of conveying an uncontaminated gluten-free guarantee, in retailers and restaurants.

Additionally, incorporating a digestive health claim into a gluten-free pizza recipe, as seen with Lab Pizza, may help to boost the product’s overall appeal among consumers with food intolerance, considering their condition.

Alex Beckett was promoted to Global Food and Drink analyst at the end of 2013, having spent nearly three years writing UK-based consumer reports on a wide variety of food and drink categories. Prior to joining Mintel, Alex was Food and Drink Editor of highly-regarded food industry magazine, The Grocer.

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