US Menu Matrix: Pizza and pasta

US Menu Matrix: Pizza and pasta

November 10, 2021
5 min read

The US Menu Matrix shows relative positioning and performance of menu attributes (flavors, ingredients, dishes, beverages etc.) This month, we take a look at the top-performing and emerging flavors related to the pizza and pasta categories.

Menu Matrix: What each quadrant means

More operators are menuing items in this category. Take a closer look at your competition to ensure your product is clearly differentiated.

Items in this category are trending and may be solid additions to your menu. If already menuing, these items are good candidates for price increase, bundling, product extensions etc.

Consider removing, or evolving, these popular items as both number of menu mentions and number of restaurants menuing are in decline.

More items are being menued in this category. Take a closer look at your current offering and consider expanding the range.


Top leading pizza flavors

Top growing pizza flavors – products on the menu

Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘N Cheese
Toppers (chain).

Creamy cheese sauce layered with macaroni noodles and topped with 100% real Wisconsin mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, buffalo chicken, applewood smoked bacon and drizzled with mild buffalo sauce.

Pizzeria Locale (Boulder, CO).

San marzano tomato, speck, whipped ricotta, condimento italiano (calabrian chili, garlic, red wine vinegar, parsley, honey), grana padano.

Crispy Chicken Parm
Culinary Dropout (chain).

Organic tomato sauce, Parmesan cream, smoked mozzarella, basil.

What it means

With pizza menu innovation, operators are leaning toward full-blown indulgence in terms of flavor and format. Indulgent and traditional crusts (eg deep dish, thin-crust, etc.) are the way to go, rather than lighter or BFY formats like flatbreads and whole wheat crusts which are lagging on US menus. Meat pizzas are also leading including supreme, pepperoni, Hawaiian and Buffalo chicken varieties, while vegetarian pizzas, including those topped with mushroom or eggplant, are in decline. However, mushrooms as an ingredient are growing in menu incidence, suggesting an opportunity to incorporate certain veggies with other meaty toppings. Additionally, plant-based and vegetarian claims are on the rise with restaurant pizzas suggesting an opportunity for expanding with plant-based meat analogues.

Operators are boosting the flavor profiles of their pizza menu items as evidenced by the strong growth in spicy and meaty toppings. Ingredients that bring the heat, including pepperoni and banana peppers, are trending, while flavor descriptors including hot, spicy and Buffalo are also on the rise. Add a multidimensional heat experience by combining several sources of heat, such as pepperoni and soppressata pizza, or sweet heat toppings like hot honey or chili-oil-topped burrata.

Operators can go big on other trending ingredients such as Buffalo sauce, pineapple or pepperoni by incorporating them not only as toppings but also in sauces and stuffed crusts. For example, include Buffalo sauce as a pizza base in addition to Buffalo chicken or add Buffalo sauce as a finishing drizzle.


Top leading pasta flavors

Top growing pasta flavors – products on the menu

Black Truffle Tagliatelle
Sol Bar (Calistoga, CA).

Black truffles, truffle butter, Parmesan.

Shiok Dry Mee Siam
Shiok! (Menlo Park, CA).

A tangy spicy rice vermicelli dish with tofu, prawns, scallops, peanuts and egg.

Cauliflower Rigatoni in Roasted Garlic Cream
Noodles & Company (chain).

Cauliflower-infused rigatoni in light roasted garlic cream sauce with roasted zucchini, mushrooms and spinach finished with MontAmore cheese and parsley.

What it means

Even though pastas are not a light dish by definition, baked and stuffed pastas are on the decline. These include ravioli, agnolotti, baked pasta and tortellini. It may be that these dishes are too heavy for the spring months, highlighting an opportunity to lighten them up with seasonal fillings, sauces, or both. At the same time, classics are taking a leading role. Trending varieties including penne, fettucine, rigatoni and spaghetti can all be kicked up a notch with simple ingredients (eg cacio e pepe), seasonal mix-ins (eg asparagus) or luxe finishes (eg uni, truffles).

Signature and more specific flavor descriptions (eg roasted garlic, tangy) are taking the place of simple narratives on menus (eg spicy, smoked, savory) to lend a new sense of flavor profile transparency and clarity. Highlight preparations that impart flavor, such as roasted and applewood-smoked.

Thinner noodles are trending on menus as seen in Singapore noodles and angel hair executions. Singapore noodles stand out as a dish with the potential for increased innovation as diners expand their consumption of international cuisines, both at home and away. Introduce diners to this thin rice noodle dish with a variety of protein (eg shrimp, chicken, tofu) and sauce options (yellow curry, red curry, XO sauce). Angel hair has an opportunity to become a revived classic not only in new takes on shrimp scampi, but also as a canvas for a variety of other seafood pastas. While diners want seafood to stay off their pizzas, shrimp and salmon are growing in conjunction with pasta dishes, adding a light take on the carb-heavy dish.

Amanda Topper
Amanda Topper

Amanda Topper is the Director of US Research: Food, Drink, Foodservice, Flavors & Ingredients, responsible for overseeing all of Mintel’s foodservice offerings, as well as providing insight and competitive analysis across scheduled deliverables, and client and industry presentations.

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