This year has seen tumult and divisiveness throughout the country, as an historic election brought to light the differences that threaten to pull us apart. However, there was still one thing we could all agree on in 2016—and that’s pizza.
The state of the pizza industry remains strong, and it’s poised for even more growth as the calendar turns toward 2017. Darren Tristano, President of food industry research group Technomic, has been watching the pizza segment closely, and he believes steady growth will be on the menu for next year.
“Pizza has been performing well over the recent years. As a mature segment of the industry, pizza remains a staple for American consumers and should continue to grow sales in the range of 4 to 5 percent,” said Tristano.
This growth isn’t limited to only the bigger chains dominating the industry. In fact, s a new wave of fast-casual franchise options has added to the lucrative investment options available in the pizza space.
“Pizza remains a very familiar food to consumers. Trends in better quality, healthier ingredients, and specialty, customizable pizza provides ample opportunity to leverage existing trends to build profitable restaurant opportunities,” said Tristano. “The ability to create a low cost product with smaller overhead costs is a very strong investment proposition.”
Here are 25 pizza brands that should be on your radar heading into 2017:
Based in Whitewater, Wisconsin, Toppers has seen tremendous growth throughout the Midwest in the last few years—and it has even more on tap for 2017. Featuring a menu filled with creative toppings (Mac and Cheese pizza, anyone?), a high-quality, made-from-scratch mantra, speedy delivery and an irreverent attitude, Toppers now has its sights set on national growth and plans to take down the big chains in its quest for pizza industry domination.
Current unit count: 76
Investment range: $291,666 - $527,152
Tristano points to a broad menu and good technology as two of the reasons behind Dominos’ great success in 2016 and even better prospects for the future. Whether it’s the near-constant new menu additions, creative national ad campaigns, and new technologies (including a self-driving pizza delivery robot), Dominos continues to stay at the forefront of pizza consumers’ minds.
Current unit count: 12,900
Investment range: $119,950 - $461,700
Proving that pizza is not all delivery and sit-down experiences, Papa Murphy’s continues to see incredible success with its unique Take ‘n’ Bake concept. With an aggressive, franchise-based growth strategy in place for the next few years, expect to see more and more pizza consumers cooking up their own pie from the comfort of home.
Current unit count: 1,500
Investment range: $279,455 - $492,861
Our list sees more than one “down the line” style pizzerias, but there’s only one that lays claim to being the originator in the space. And while a robust menu of toppings and choices is making Your Pie a household name, a real differentiator is the brand’s commitment to another big trend: craft beer. Local partnerships with craft breweries, paired with strategic growth throughout the U.S., has Your Pie firmly on pizza prognosticators radar screens.
Current unit count: 36
Investment range: $311,750 - $475,105
There is a reason that Pizza Hut remains America’s largest pizza chain at the end of 2016, and that reason is growth and steady success. And although Pizza Hut might not offer crazy specials and limited time offers, a focus on smart advertising and market availability ensures that “nobody will be out pizza-ing the hut” for the foreseeable future.
Current unit count: 13,728
Investment range: $297,000 - $2,144,000
Focusing on quality, says Tristano, is what has Papa John’s positioned as one of the top pizza brands to watch in the coming year. Add to that a reputation for quality and a slew of big-name owners and endorsers, such as former NFL player Payton Manning, and it is no wonder why so many people continue to have “Papa in the House” on game days.
Current unit count: 4,700
Investment range: $129,910 - $844,210
Perhaps no pizza company made a bigger and quicker splash in 2016 than Blaze Pizza, another down the line concept that pushes out pies in 180 seconds. And with NBA Champion and social media master LeBron James as an investor and vocal spokesman, it seems things are just heating up for the fast-growing brand from Pasadena.
Current unit count: 165
Investment range: $394,500 - $939,000
With locations throughout the Southeast and Midwest, and more franchise growth planned for the next year, the five minute gourmet pizza concept founded in 2011 is primed for growth in a crowded category. Despite the competition, however, Pie Five’s focus on dough (including their “crust university”) has the attention of consumers and investors alike.
Current unit count: 97
Investment range: $418,500 - $604,000
What’s the only thing better than a pizza? How about an entire buffet of pizza! CiCi’s has been riding a wave of momentum built by those who like pizza options, including the more adventurous choices such as a Zesty Ham & Cheddar pie, into a great spot on our pizza watch list.
Current unit count: 444
Investment range: $217,462 - $828,141
Started in 1963, this Columbus, Ohio based chain now boasts 150 locations across six states. While Donatos menu might seem simpler in today’s age of wacky pizza concoctions, a commitment to quality and respect has the brand’s future bright. It all comes back to founder Jim Grote’s simple philosophy: "To make the best pizza and to treat others the way I would like to be treated."
Current unit count: 152
Investment range: $461,390 - $666,700
If deep dish is your thing, keep an eye on an under the radar pizzeria: Beggars. Although currently limited to the Chicagoland area, demand from its rapidly-growing fan base means that that may not be the case forever. With its iconic vagrant logo and surprising variety, expect to see more consumers begging for a location near them in 2017.
Current unit count: 23
Investment range: Not listed
While most of our list looks at the influx of gourmet and higher price options in the pizza industry, Tristano sees an old standby seeing success in a different way. Little Caesar’s is gaining ground serving underserved low income markets with their $5 hot and ready pizzas. Coupled with a new focus on humorous national advertising, Little Caesar’s is likely to hold onto its high market share in the next year and beyond.
Current unit count: 4,059
Investment range: $221,000 - $654,000
California Pizza Kitchen
It seems every pizza place these days has its own version of a barbeque chicken pie, but it was CPK that made the dish a true pizza trend. Boasting a diverse menu of specialty pizzas, and perhaps the biggest array of non-pizza items on our list, California Pizza Kitchen remains a force in the gourmet pizza landscape.
Current unit count: 200+
Investment range: Not listed
Hungry Howie’s Pizza
With a large presence in the Southeast, Midwest, and California, Hungry Howie’s is poised to continue the success of its signature whimsical brand. The secret to Hungry Howie’s current standing in the pizza world? It just might be the Flavored Crust™ that has helped the brand grow since its founding in the early 70’s in Taylor, Michigan.
Current unit count: 546
Investment range: $253,075 - $453,850
Rosati’s is yet another Chicago institution that finds itself heading into 2017 with nationwide growth in its sights. With over 100 years of deep-dish pizza making behind them, the team at Rosati’s is now looking at a renewed focus on franchising (the brand first began franchising way back in 1979), with territories open throughout the United States.
Current unit count: 131
Investment range: $134,200 - $975,500
Specialty pizzas, submarine sandwiches, and eight ways to customize your crust are the backbone of another Michigan born chain, Jet’s Pizza. Heading into 2017, Jet’s should continue to see success by bringing its fans true pizza fun. "Pizza should be fun," says Co-Founder John Jetts on the company’s website. "If you're eating one of our pizzas and you don't have a smile on your face, then something is wrong."
Current unit count: 388
Investment range: $450,000 - $630,500
Marco’s, based in Toledo, Ohio, finds itself on our list as result of incredible growth over the last nine years (the company claims the fastest growth since 2007 based on signed development deals). Founder Pasquale “Pat” Giammarco came to America from Italy when he was just a boy, and his company’s commitment to classic Italian has Marco’s poised to build off its recent success that has seen the brand double in size over the last several years.
Current unit count: 731
Investment range: $224,092 - $549,092
Pizza may not necessarily evoke thoughts of ‘70s hippy culture, but that hasn’t stopped the laid-back, somewhat trippy Mellow Mushroom from expanding its message of peace, love, and pizza. Mellow Mushroom claims to be the originator of Classic Southern Pizza, and those mellow vibes paired with a huge selection of craft beer makes the chain a unique brand in a pizza industry awash with checkered red tablecloths and classic Italian flair.
Current unit count: 180
Investment range: $926,500 - $3,100,000
Giordano’s Restaurant & Pizzeria
Despite a glut of famous Chicago-style pizzerias dotting the Windy City, perhaps none is as iconic as Giordano’s Restaurant & Pizzeria. No stranger to national “best pizza” rankings, it might be the brand’s fast-growing franchise model that has people most excited for the deep-dish pizzeria. Boasting an average table check of $35, owning a Giordano’s is a unique opportunity in the pizza marketplace.
Current unit count: 60
Investment range: $1,100,000 – $1,775,000
800 degree ovens, pizzas that come out in less than three minutes, and near-endless customization and control are the hallmarks of Seattle-based MOD Pizza. And did we mention MOD is in serious growth mode? Named one of the “Fastest Growing Private Companies in America” by Inc. Magazine, the hip pizza brand has expanded across the country in less than a decade of operation. Also known as one of the best retail businesses to work for, MOD doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
Current unit count: 150+
Investment range: $564,500 - $778,000
Gatti’s Pizza traces its roots back to the 1960’s in Texas, where founder Colonel Eure started it all with his simply-named establishment, The Pizza Place. Almost 50 years later, the Gatti’s brand is now so much more, with its unique Gatti-Town game and entertainment concept and this year’s classic rebranding as Mr. Gatti’s Pizza. With multiple franchising options, Gatti’s looks to remain a hot concept in pizza as we enter the new year.
Current unit count: 140+
Investment range: $200,000 - $4,800,000
Papa Gino’s Pizzeria
Papa Gino’s is a bit of a rarity, hailing from an area not always thought of as a hotbed for pizza. That hasn’t stopped the Boston-based company from expanding to over 150 locations throughout New England. And while the chain has yet to branch out from its seat in the Northeast, the brand seems poised for huge growth in New England and beyond.
Current unit count: 156
Investment range: $606,100 - $856,200
Famous Famiglia, the classic Italian pizzeria known throughout the world for its convenient locations in airports, shopping centers, travel plazas, and more continues to be a major presence both in the U.S. and internationally. The brand continues to grow through its entrepreneur-friendly franchise model, one that requires no restaurant experience—just a long-term vision that matches the growing chain’s ambition.
Current unit count: 108
Investment range: $350,000 - $500,000
Villa Italian Kitchen
Brought to New York from Naples, Italy in 1964, Villa Italian Kitchen has continued on founder Michele “Michael” Scotto’s vision for authentic Italian food. The brand now boasts almost 300 restaurants throughout the country and internationally, with franchise opportunities available in Texas, California, New York, Colorado, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Current unit count: 250
Investment range: $296,950 - $894,000
Another brand that stands out in the fast-casual segment with strong growth patterns and high interest from franchisees and investors, Pieology is truly taking the pizza world by storm. Calling themselves “The Study of Custom Pizza,” Pieology claims to have 78 billion pizza possibilities available for their mad-scientist customers to concoct. With locations opening up throughout the country, it seems likely that pizza consumers will continue tinkering with those combinations as they strive to create the perfect slice.
Current unit count: 134
Investment range: $458,500-$839,500