By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large
There are about three billion pizzas sold in the U.S. every year, proving that consumers certainly will dish out that dough for the beloved pizza pie.
The sector continues to thrive, even during a recession.
There used to be a sharp divide between the QSR and casual dining chains in the pizza category, but an influx of pizza-focused fast casuals have emerged. All of which want a pizza of that pie.
The fast casual format certainly suits the pizza category. With today’s innovative kitchen equipment, pies can be cooked in minutes. Pizzas can be served quickly and are usually inexpensive. Not to mention, they are customizable.
So it’s not surprising that the majority (9 to be exact) of the top 10 Most Loved pizza brands are in the fast casual segment.
How is this list curated?
Foodable Labs, through the Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI), analyzes more than 167K restaurant and hospitality brands and over 220 million global restaurant consumers across 500K foodservice locations. Sentiment Scores, in particular, are measured by consumer sentiment on food, service, and overall brand experience.
Check out the top 10 list below and let’s take a closer look at the top three pizza chains.
MOD Pizza | Sentiment: 96.01 Overall: 476
This "super fast" chain was started by a former Starbuck’s executive in 2008. Scott Svenson saw the potential in the fast casual pizza market early on and since then, the chain has grown rapidly and now has over 200 locations in the U.S. and UK.
In 2016 alone the brand opened 100 stores and reached a same-store sales growth of 5.3%.
But the brand is about so much more than serving personal pizzas with 30 toppings to pick from, the company has created an inspiring company culture.
“2016 was another exceptional year for MOD with growth across our business. It is tremendously rewarding to see how our unique purpose-driven culture continues to generate industry-leading results as we bring MOD to new communities across the country and the United Kingdom,” said Scott Svenson, co-founder and CEO of MOD Pizza in a press release from March. “Our commitment to making a positive impact on our people and the communities we serve will continue to motivate our team as we focus on growing and improving the business in 2017.”
MOD uses social not only to make their followers drool with pizza portraits, but social is a vehicle to tell the story of its MOD Squad, the brand’s employees. Evidently, this nurturing culture also resonates with customers. Mod has one of the highest sentiment scores.
This pizza fast casual also lands at No. 5 with the fifth highest Overall score out of all of the restaurant chains in all categories analyzed by Foodable Labs.
Pizzeria Locale | Sentiment: 92.18 Overall: 444.7
In 2011, this pizza-focused restaurant caught the eye of Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, the pioneer of Mexican fast casual and arguably the chain that started the fast casual segment. Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson partnered with Ells to bring pizza to the masses in the similar format to Chipotle’s.
With seven stores in four states, the brand has yet to come close to opening the number of Chipotle stores. However, it’s Overall and Sentiment scores are much higher than the fast casual burrito chain. Chipotle’s scores slumped drastically after its food safety crisis in 2015.
Evidently, Pizzeria Locale’s association with Chipotle has not impacted its scores. The fast casual pizzeria lands at No. 2 on the Most Loved list by pizza category.
Pizzeria Locale's shares Chipotle’s goals to serve “food with integrity” and uses social to convey that message. For example, the brand posts imagery and videos of chefs prepping and cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients, along with photos of the finished product.
The brand also engages with their loyal followers who share their Pizzeria Locale dining experiences on social by reposting their imagery.
This technique fosters social loyalty with customers, while helping the brand curate content.
&pizza | Sentiment: 92.03 Overall: 427
The No. 3 pizza chain is a brand Foodable has had an eye on for a while. &pizza’s CEO and Co-founder Michael Lastoria landed on the Foodable Innovator 50 and got the Top Brand Artisan Award back in May.
At the end of 2016, this edgy build-your-own pizza brand landed a massive investment of $25 million from the private investment firm AVALT.
With the investment, the fast casual is primed for growth.
“This funding will guarantee a continued focus on the growth of our business and our Tribe members. It allows us to expand our reach and preach the gospel of &pizza not only deeper inside the city limits of the nation's capital, but far beyond. Continuing to incorporate the DNA of each community we serve, and leading the movement and being a voice of #fightfor15 is all we could ever ask for,” said Lastoria in a press release.
The chain has 21 store locations and this year, the first New York City store opened. To celebrate the NYC store opening, the first 212 customers got a free pizza. Then the first 22 pizza-lovers to get the &pizza ampersand logo got free pizza for an entire year. Now that some dedication on both ends.
&pizza showcases its trendy message on social with an array of posts with black and white imagery of artsy backdrops, murals, scenery, tattoo parlors, pizza boxes and more. The food and beverages make an appearance too and are the only things in color.
Deemed as the anti-establishment establishment, &pizza has created a brand voice that is unique and just straight up cool. This makes customers eager to be part of it, fostering a tremendous amount of positive social engagements.
Check out what other brands made the list below.
|RANK||Restaurant||Sentiment Score||Overall Score||VIDEO|
|5||Pitfire Artisan Pizza||89.70||431.5|
|8||Piada Italian Street Food||83.74||417|
|10||800 Degrees Pizza||81.56||385.7|