C&U operators leverage pizza toppings, novel and familiar

natural carnitas pizza

From Hormel Foodservice.

Depending on the toppings, a pizza can be traditional, innovative or both. That versatility is key to pleasing college and university students, campus dining operators say.

For every student stirred by pepperoni, another jumps at duck confit and wild mushrooms on a crust. However, eating pizza is a very personal experience. A person’s craving can vary according to mood, setting and time of day. From time to time, the traditionalist may desire unique flavors and the adventurer a familiar, comforting pie.

In the topping category, pepperoni still is going strong and sausage, ham and bacon have many fans as well. But operators also are reaching out to customers by using innovative toppings inspired by global cuisines and food trends. Examples range from slow-cooked beef or pork barbacoa on a Mexican-style pizza to smoky, savory pulled pork on a barbecue-themed pie. Such ingredients satisfy the demands of consumers—especially millennials—to have new sensations and cultural experiences through food.

At Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., it takes an array of toppings, both unusual and familiar, to keep pizza exciting throughout the school year.

“You have a pepperoni pizza and a sausage pizza,” says Kurt Kwiatkowski, corporate chef of Culinary Services at MSU, which serves 35,000 to 40,000 meals per day. “But you also do a pulled pork pizza and a kimchee pizza. You mix it up and have some fun.”

Pizza is one of many appealing menu offerings at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, America’s largest C&U dining program serving 5.5 million meals per year. To help pizza hold its own against hand-rolled sushi and made-to-order burgers, salads and stir-fries, toppings have gotten more creative, says Van Sullivan, UMass director of retail dining.

For example, an individual-sized, gourmet pie with duck confit, wild mushrooms and béchamel sauce on hand-stretched organic crust “is really starting to take off,” says Sullivan. Also popular are salad pizzas featuring arugula and pesto and veggie pies topped with broccolini and broccoli rabe.

In addition, pizza innovations can help operators mine new dayparts and business opportunities. MSU’s breakfast pizzas sport toppings like scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage and bacon. There is also a riff on Southern biscuits and gravy with breakfast sausage and country gravy on a pizza.

Both universities also have succeeded with dessert pizzas. MSU’s hits include a pizza with Michigan blueberries or peaches and mascarpone cheese and another with chocolate-hazelnut spread and bruleed bananas. UMass has scored with apple pie pizza and s’mores pizza. “We put anything you can find in the bake shop on a pizza and it is a lot of fun,” says Sullivan.

UMass also has its own pizza delivery program at night on part of the campus. The toppings are largely traditional, but the quality is out of the ordinary. “We have nitrate-free pepperoni, higher-quality cheese, housemade organic dough—all at the same price you pay for a mainstream pizza,” says Sullivan.

Could you be doing more with your pizza program? Hormel Foodservice has a complete portfolio of relevant protein toppings ranging from globally inspired to all natural to the classics. For menu ideas, insights, and product information, visit us at HormelFoodservice.com/pizza.

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