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International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas a slice above others

Updated March 5, 2019 - 7:53 pm

The International Pizza Expo’s exhibit hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center was filled on its first day Tuesday with all the expected ingredients: flours, dough mixes, tomatoes, oils, garlic, herbs and cheeses and meats of nearly countless description, plus all the equipment needed to produce a pizza commercially, serve it, package it and get it to the customer.

Pizza was clearly on the minds of the crowd, with pizza-printed pants, T-shirts that demanded “legalize marinara” and overheard snippets of conversation about “the olive guys and the sauce guys.”

The year’s hottest pizza trends were evident in the products of the Detroit Style Pizza Company and Roman-style pies being served by Monini North America Inc., whose president, Marco Petrini, predicted that the pizza with the airy, crispy crust would soon be sold in the U.S. by the inch, as it is in Rome.

But running through the early addresses, seminars, demonstrations and competitions was the reminder that millennials are the new pizza consumers, and that they look at things a little differently. Hence a concentrated focus on vegan and gluten-free foods and packaging that poses less stress on the environment.

Daiya, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, was handing out samples of its dairy-free cheeses, which are made with potato starch and tapioca. Chris Matthews, central territory sales manager for the company, said Daiya’s cheeses are not only gluten-free and vegan, but also free of several major allergens. Demand for the products of the 11-year-old company has “skyrocketed,” he said, adding food-service sales had increased 40 percent in the past year. Daiya’s cheese products, including the indulgent cheesecake popular with show attendees, have a smoothness and richness that would make it easy to mistake them for the real thing.

Before the Butcher, which was sampling its non-GMO soy meat substitutes in varieties such as ground chorizo, ground Italian sausage and pulled pork, also reported brisk sales. CEO Danny O’Malley said the biggest problem for the 18-month-old company is meeting demand. O’Malley said 80 percent of his customers are meat eaters who turn to alternatives because of health, environmental and humane considerations. The company’s pulled pork had the characteristically stringy texture of the real thing, not often found in soy products.

The pizza dough at Wild Flour Bakery’s booth was stretchy and crispy, belying the fact that it was gluten-free. General manager and product developer Kim Desch said she had been a nurse practitioner whose specialty was gluten-related illnesses when she first became interested in the market segment because it was difficult to find gluten-free products her patients would eat. She subsequently was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. “Then I found a career and a lifestyle,” she said. Desch added that demand continues to grow, estimating that 32 percent of the population currently chooses a gluten-free diet.

Pizza boxes are notoriously impossible to recycle because the cardboard is permeated with grease, but there’s a fully compostable one available in World Centric’s Pizza Round box, which is made with 80 percent sugar cane and 20 percent bamboo. Liz Anderson, a company vice president, said the box’s gridded bottom wicks away grease, and built-in dimples keep the crust crispy. Plus, the structure is sufficiently sturdy that those little pizza-box tables are unnecessary.

Anderson, too, sees an increased awareness. You’ve heard that we’re looking for better ingredients, but she said we want better packaging as well.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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