Pizza Processing: Making it Unique
May 01, 2009
by Shane Whitaker
Did you know more than a dozen different styles of pizza are available across the US? Chicago, New York, St. Louis and Detroit each has its own style of pizza, as does California and New Haven, CT. There are Hawaiian and Mexican pizzas, as well as Sicilian and Greek pies. Pizza cannot be pigeonholed; instead, it is available in many distinct varieties.
“For pizza to be successful these days, it has to be unique, and it is the uniqueness of the products that is affecting the design of equipment,” said Richard (Dick) Tonon, sales director, Raque Food Systems, Louisville, KY. “Unless you have something that stands out from the crowd, it is difficult to get into that market, so people are coming to us with different types of products such as oven-raised crusts and mini-bagel pizzas.”
Processors want to keep the pizza category fresh and are looking for new markets or approaches, according to Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Hudson, OH. Pizza manufacturers are exploring new bases, or crusts, such as croissant and puff pastry on which to build their products. And because consumers’ tastes seem to be more sophisticated than they were 10 or 15 years ago, more diverse toppings including artichoke hearts and roasted peppers are commonly added to frozen pizzas.
“As this marketplace becomes more crowded with both regional and national brands, the pizza toppings are a major source of differentiation,” said Bob Grote, president of Grote Co., Columbus, OH. “Toppings like chicken, bacon and unique sausage blends are popular.”
Because manufacturers are introducing new, distinctive pizza products, Mr. Tonon said he is seeing more interest lately in pizza processing equipment. Whereas demand for pizzamaking equipment had been relatively flat, today he pointed out that processors are investing in lines.
Not too long ago frozen pizza crusts were oftentimes compared to cardboard; however, today many manufacturers are more concerned about having a base with flavor, and therefore, they are using prefermented, or gassier, doughs. “If you give dough some fermentation time and let the flavors develop, one of the things you don’t want to do is to beat it up,” Mr. Riggle said.“You want to go with something low stress, so dough handling is important.”
Rademaker offers a couple of different low-stress systems for creating artisan- and bistro-style pizza bases, according to Mr. Riggle. “We have a low-stress sheeting system that doesn’t degas or damage the dough,” he observed. “We also offer the X-pack, an 8-roll dough feeding system that we introduced at iba in 2006. It very gently takes the dough from its bulk prefermented form and reduces it to a nice consistent dough sheet where we don’t damage or degas the dough.”
The company also manufacturers a machine that replicates the action a baker may use to shape the dough by pulling it with his fingers. “The Cross-Relaxer has a corkscrewshaped roller that as it rotates underneath the dough gently massages it upwards and outwards toward the outer sides of the belt to release some of the tension in the dough,” he explained. “It gently creates a nice consistent dough width.”
Rondo provides pizza crust lines with inline intermediate proofing chambers that hold dough for up to 40 minutes. “This option gives the possibility to improve the flavor formation and quality of frozen pizzas,” said Jerry Murphy, president, Rondo, Inc., Moonachie, NJ. “Additionally, because of the relaxing of the dough prior to cutting, the crusts will not shrink materially.”
The company also offers a coldpress machine to create high-rimmed pizzas, similar to Italian handmade bistro-style pizzas, according to Mr. Murphy. “Rondo has developed a device to form the pizza crust after proofing before eventual topping and that device not only presses the crust but simulates the action of the human hands, thus obtaining a better effect,” he added.
Fritsch USA, Cedar Grove, NJ, provides dough systems that gently handle the dough and offer the processor greater flexibly. The satellite head on its sheeting equipment gently reduces the dough sheet to the requested dough thickness and does not compress the dough’s structure.
Because some processors do not want to be as aggressive with the dough and may have an extra reduction station, pizza crust lines are often a little longer than they have been in the past, according to Mr. Riggle.
Rademaker offers independently driven die-cut systems for forming crusts. “The reason we drive them separately is if you adjust the cutter faster or slower, you are able to compensate for shrinkage of the dough,” he said. In addition to offering a single-drive system in which an operator must perform a quick disconnect to remove the die roller anytime the plant wants to change sizes, Rademaker manufactures a carousel system that holds up to six different cutters, and the correct cutter rotates into place when the operator makes a selection on the PLC. “We can make a line in which an operator has to do everything, or we make fully automated lines, where all the processes can be saved to a PLC, and the operator simply has to push a button for the product he needs to run at the control panel, and all the gauging stations will automatically adjust to the right gap thicknesses.”
Rademaker also manufactures a hot press that can be used for extending the size of sheeted die-cut crusts. Mr. Riggle explained that its press is not designed to be used with dough balls that require an intermediate proof prior to the press and may require a lot of oil.
Because a lot of new toppings are being placed on pizzas, Mr. Riggle pointed out that this has created a whole new set of challenges for equipment manufacturers. “Putting pepperoni or sausage and frozen onions and green peppers onto a pizza is fairly simple, but when you get into some of these other items such as caramelized onions, to be quite honest, a lot of them are put on by hand,” he said. “They cannot be automated.”
However, Rademaker is working to develop equipment to handle these kind of toppings. And it already offers a machine that is able to place drier, harder, coarser cheeses such as Parmesan and asiago, which pizza processors are using more often on their products rather than just mozzarella, according to Mr. Riggle.
Because toppings are more expensive, he said pizza manufacturers do not want to waste them, thus they are using more targeted systems as opposed to waterfall designs to apply sauces as well as vegetable and meat toppings. “We can waterfall the cheese, and as it makes its way to the transfer point, we knock off the excess cheese and a recycle conveyor runs it back through the system, so it doesn’t become waste,” Mr. Riggle added.
Raque offers full coverage waterfall systems as well as targeted depositing for border-free, or cleanedge, pizzas, according to Mr. Tonon. He said clean-edge pizzas are more popular today because they are perceived to be a higher quality product by consumers.
To assist in creating these types of products, Fritsch offers a multiple nozzle sauce depositor system that is a servo-controlled, and because depositor dosing heads are individually controlled, there is no waste.
Raque’s newest topping units have been designed to handle a variety of toppings and sauces, according to Mr. Tonon. The company altered designs of its equipment to handle chunky sauces that are often associated with California-style pizzas,he added.However, because processors are making new unique-style pizzas, Mr. Tonon noted that today’s pizzas may feature toppings such as sliced tomatoes or capsicum that is placed in a pattern that cannot be handled with a machine and must be added by hand.
While most pizza topping equipment uses volumetric representations of weights, Mr. Tonon pointed out that some manufacturers prefer exact-weight scales to achieve more precise ingredient weights. Because cheese and meat toppings are the most expensive ingredients, some processors want to better control the weight and waste, he added. “When we go to a scaled system, it is much more expensive than the traditional topping unit, but you can improve the weight control by as much as 10%,” Mr. Tonon said.
Raque has also made design changes to its equipment because pizza processors want to run faster and get more output from their lines. When speed is of the essence, the company uses servo drives. “Speed, weight control and distribution are all interconnected, and unless you consider every one of those items, you will sacrifice one of them,” Mr. Tonan said.
Raque has focused on equipment designs that allow its machines to be more efficient and provide the end user with more uptime, focusing on sanitation and mechanical issues that make maintenance easier, according to Mr. Tonon.“We’ve changed to belt drives from traditional chain drives because they are more reliable, and they don’t require lubrication and last longer,” he explained. “Also, they don’t stretch like chains. Belt drives are more reliable, and you have more uptime rather than performing preventive maintenance.”
The supplier has incorporated sanitary designs throughout its entire product lines. “For instance, horizontal framework members are rotated 45°, so they have sloped not horizontal surfaces that can catch dirt and so water runs off during cleaning. We also stand-off bearings, so you can get behind them and clean them rather than having a crevice where bacteria can grow.”
Although many pizza manufacturers may be using a wider variety of toppings, pepperoni remains popular, and processors focus on the pattern and coverage of pepperoni on their pizzas, according to Mr. Grote. “More slices on a single pizza are more appealing, but it requires thinner slicing to keep the overall meat weight, thus cost, down,” he added.
Grote recently updated its Peppamatic machine to provide more accurate velocity profile and greater throughput, according to Mr. Grote. “The velocity profiling allows the customer to compress the pepperoni patterns to fit more slices on a crust,” he noted. “The servo technology on the new Peppamatic allows us to achieve speeds much greater than with the previous drives.”
In addition, Mr. Grote noted that much of the company’s new pizza equipment allows for various lane configurations, so the customer can run different diameter pizzas efficiently on one line. “We have also expanded the size range our equipment can handle,” he said. “We have a standard slicer that can top an 18-in.-diameter pizza.”
From crusts to toppings, pizza equipment suppliers continue to develop new designs to assist pizza manufacturers in offering unique products. The variety of frozen pizzas that can be found in the supermarket today is amazing compared with what was available only 10 to 15 years ago.