The pizza industry is experiencing an unprecedented divide

The pizza industry been going to the extremes lately.

Commercial chains like Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s have released low-brow offerings like the wacky hot dog stuffed crust pizza and a pretzel crust pizza with Cheez Whiz instead of sauce.

But on the other end of the spectrum, artisanal chains are blowing up.

With players like Blaze Pizza, Pieology, Chipotle’s Pizzeria Locale, and Pie Five, pizza has been getting a fancy makeover with a personal touch — in the custom, assembly line style of Chipotle.

The divide is causing a decline in classic pizza chains that simply serve cheese or pepperoni.

Pieology PizzasPieologyPieology’s pies.

Pieology alone is expected to nearly double from its current 60 units.

And Blaze pizza was endorsed by superstar athlete LeBron James.

The rise in custom pizza with organic ingredients might be attributed to the influence of millennials.

Blaze pizzaBlaze PizzaBlaze Pizza cooks its pies in a stone hearth oven for 3 minutes.

According to a study by Smart Flour Foods and The Center For Generational Kinetics, millennials love pizza.

Millennials also can truly influence many markets. “If [millennials] like a brand … our parents are looking at us on Facebook,” millennial expert and marketing strategist Jason Dorsey of The Center for Generational Kinetics told Business Insider. “Our belief is if you win millennials, you have a really good shot at winning everybody else.” He also said, “if you are unable to win millennials, you risk losing everybody else.”

More critical to retailers, “we see millennials are the driver of retail, as well as food trends,” Dorsey said.

The survey revealed what people (millennials, particularly) like about pizza, and it sheds on light on recent trends. According to the survey, 77% of pizza lovers say they care about the ingredients of their respective pizza being natural, and millennials care about having a gluten free option more than any other generation.

54% of millennials post pictures of their pizzas; only 26% of people in other generations do. This could account for the Instagram-friendly pie.

Since millennials care so much about these qualities, it might justify the onslaught of all-natural, highly customisable, beautiful looking pizza.

It’s not just millennials, though. “Millennials…are more knowledgeable [about food] and boomers are looking for healthier options, trying to live a healthier lifestyle so they can live longer,” said Dean Small, CEO of Synergy Restaurant Consultants. Synergy is particularly knowledgeable about about pizza trends, as the firm’s clients include California Pizza Kitchen and Pizza Hut.

Blaze pizzaBlaze PizzaPeople create their own pizzas at Blaze.

Perhaps one of the most significant reasons custom-made pizzas are on the rise is these pizza places offer options for those with dietary restrictions. “Some children and adults can’t eat gluten,” Small said, also citing dairy as a potential problem for many customers.

Plus, Dorsey pointed out, that for millennials, when you incorporate components like “gluten free [crust] and ancient grains … it almost represents what you believe.”

Small added that “millennials are more aware of quality of ingredients, and they want transparency. They’d like to know that they were sourced locally.”

Millennials often can’t pay for the high quality food they claim they love, but pizza remains a relatively affordable food item.

“You may have three roommates. You may not own a house … But you can splurge and get a really awesome pizza,” Dorsey said to Business Insider. “And added to this great equaliser [is] uniqueness, which is just fabulous.”

Small points out that these sorts of pizzas sell well at lunch, when people are short on time or are not sharing their food with coworkers. Plus, “these custom pizzas thrive at lunch … if the toppings are selected properly, they don’t have to be diet busters.”

He also adds that these pizzas go so far as to be close to “simulating [as if it’s something you’d find] if you were in Italy or you were in Naples. [That’s] typically how pizzas are cooked — very, very fast, thin crust.”

Pretzel hot dog pizza crust pizza hutMallory Schlossberg/Business InsiderPizza Hut hot dog stuffed crust pizza with pretzel crust.

But what about the other end of the spectrum?

The “over-the-top menu” items like the hot dog pizza were “more tactical solutions … to create conversation, something to talk about, and to post across Instagram,” Small told Business Insider.

“It also allows the brand to test new ideas, as many [are] positioned as…LTOs [limited time only offers],” he said.

Pizza slicesBusiness InsiderWhat about regular pizza?

The classic pizza shop may be in danger.

“We still see the corner pizza shops,” Small said, and he compared classic pepperoni pizza to chocolate and vanilla ice cream the but the reality is, people have “changing dining preferences” toward customisable pizzas.

But because these mum and pop pizza shops do not offer options for those who crave custom experiences or have dietary restrictions, they could see some problems ahead. “Many old school pizza shops struggle with that because they’re staying with their core. But the reality is, they’re seeing their business decline. And the reality is, if you don’t change, if you don’t evolve, you become a dinosaur,” Small said.

Still, despite the rise of artisanal pizza and the insurgence of lowbrow pizza, “everybody has their favourite Chinese restaurant, their favourite pizza shop,” Small said.

However, with custom-made pizzas, Small said that when people customise their own pizzas, they can “create their own masterpiece,” and “control their own destiny.”

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