This Is The Most Popular Pizza Chain In 24 States, According To A Report

The pandemic and its related lockdowns have upended the restaurant industry in ways that continue to reveal themselves. In 2020, U.S. pizza consumption accounted for almost one-third of pizza sales worldwide — $46.24 billion out of $145 billion, to be exact (per Zippia). That's a lot of pie! 

So, what are Americans eating? Well, that depends largely on where you live. According to Thrillist, standard cheese pizza is the runaway favorite in 29 states. Surprisingly, only two states, Montana and Oregon, listed pepperoni as their preferred pizza topping choice. 

Making the play for the second-favorite pizza topping in America was BBQ chicken, which took seven states. We didn't see that coming. Add in other chicken varieties — buffalo chicken, chicken bacon ranch, grilled chicken white pizza — and poultry beats beef by a wide margin, even when you throw in the three states where meat lovers' pizza is the go-to choice. 

Now that we know which toppings people prefer, which pizza chain has reigned supreme during the pandemic?

Consumers prefer this pizza chain

A February 2021 Zippia report listed the 10 largest pizza chains in the U.S. by gross sales and found that the three top sellers were Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars. Rounding out the top 10 list were Papa John's Pizza, California Pizza Kitchen, Papa Murphy's, Sbarro, Marco's Pizza, Chuck E. Cheese's/Peter Piper Pizza, and Cici's Pizza. Domino's may be at the top of the heap in annual gross sales, but a whopping 81% of the chain's revenue comes from selling just ingredients — dough and toppings — to its franchisees and other chains. 

However, if you flip the script to focus on consumers' favorite pizza chain, rather than on gross annual sales, Little Caesars takes the top spot. TOP Data found that the popular pizza chain took first place in 24 out of the 48 states that it included in its study, performing especially well in the central states. Coming in way behind at second place was Papa John's, which took the lead in just 10 states. Clearly, people love Little Caesars' "Hot-N-Ready" pizzas and those garlic-parmesan breadsticks.

A bright future for pizza

While these poll numbers may appear to have changed the pizza game, the situation looks a lot like the food landscape did before the pandemic. According to a report from Statista, Domino's came first in sales and pulled in almost double the profits Little Caesars did, while Pizza Hut ranked second. Just like in the 2021 Zippia report, Little Caesars came in third when it came to profits.

Many restaurants permanently shuttered due to COVID-19, but pizza sales didn't change much. Around 300 new pizzerias opened up across America in 2020, per Franchise Chatter. These numbers proved that the pizza industry can withstand economic and social pressures, and the drive to eat at home ended up helping the pizzeria restaurant model in the long run. 

And while customers loved Little Caesars, experts believe Pizza Hut and Domino's racked up bigger profit margins thanks to their revamped ordering systems. Domino's bettered its digital ordering infrastructure during the pandemic and greatly improved its online ordering system and app. This proved to be crucial, as app orders make up 60% of pizza sales, and a full 88% of customers use some form of delivery app to receive their food order, Franchise Chatter notes. Smaller chains, like &pizza, ensured that this style of ordering maintained a human touch by instituting a text-based system that lets customers chat with pizza chefs and delivery people.

A positive future for Little Caesars

2022 might just prove to be the year Little Caesars pulls ahead to rank as the number-two national pizza chain. Franchise Chatter reports that while Pizza Hut ranked as the second-most profitable pizza chain, the largest Pizza Hut franchisee declared bankruptcy in 2021 and closed 300 locations. As a result, other national chains have had the chance to pull ahead.

By its nature, pizza chains like Little Caesars cater to vegetarian and flexitarian diets, a growing market in the restaurant sector. About 60% of Americans are eating more plant-based foods, according to a OnePoll and Eat Just, Inc survey in 2020 (via Plant Based News). If Little Caesar caters more to this audience, it has the potential to pull in more sales and possibly even topple Pizza Hut in the coming year. 

Pizzerias continues to rank as one of the most popular and reliable types of restaurants. You might just see even more innovations from major pizza chains in the coming year.