It’s hot and satisfying. It’s convenient and portable. In one magnificent meal it includes ingredients from all the major food groups. It’s even microwavable. From a consumer perspective, there are few frozen foods more popular and beloved than the pizza.

For all retail outlets excluding Wal-Mart, the $2.9 billion frozen pizza category rang up dollar and unit sales increases of 5.3 percent and 1.7 percent respectively, during the 52-week period ending Dec. 30, 2007, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

Why are frozen pizza sales - even moderately - increasing at a time when rising food and fuel prices have consumers cautious about their spending? Well, the three frozen pizza processors highlighted here - Kraft Pizza Co., Glenview, Ill., Home Run Inn Pizza Inc., Woodridge, Ill., and Schwan Consumer Brands North America Inc., Marshall, Minn. - have some theories.

“Research shows the weak housing market and high gas prices are taking a bite out of consumers’ wallets and have significantly decreased traffic to quick serve restaurants - with the most impacted category being takeout pizza, which is down 137,289 visits from Nov. 2006 through Nov. 2007,” says Schwan Senior Director, Pizza Category Scott Gamble, citing data from Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group’s quarterly CREST Executive Topline. “This creates an opportunity for us because pizza is still America’s favorite food.”

Tim Cofer, president of Kraft Pizza Co., adds that even though consumers are eating at home more frequently, they are not willing to sacrifice on flavor or quality.

“While consumers might be dining out less, they still look for bold, unique flavors and premium ingredients to enjoy, so we have the opportunity to bring these same offerings to the home with innovative frozen pizza varieties,” he says.

Despite the opportunities created, the frozen pizza industry still feels the effects of rising commodity costs - but ultimately optimism reigns.

Says Home Run Inn Pizza Vice President of Frozen Food Operations Mark Carlson, “Pretty much everything we use is up [in price]. Cheese is up. Corn oil is up. Flour is up. The choices are, you can cut labor - which we will not do - or come out with new items and new marketing and a new look. … Customers are looking for something new.”

And these three companies are at the ready with innovative frozen pizza ideas. Read on to find out what new products and trends Home Run Inn, Kraft and Schwan’s will be delivering to freezercases this year.