The popularity of ethnic cuisine has been years in the making. Since 1977, Deep Foods, Inc., Union, NJ, has provided all-natural, authentic Indian products to the US marketplace. Recognizing the rising popularity of pizza among the Indian community, especially with vegetarians, the company sought a dual approach — to meet the needs of its current customer base as well as build a mainstream audience hungry for ethnic cuisine.

"We understand that the flavors of Indian food are exotic, and the spices are unknown, but there is a comfort level with pizza that makes it a good crossover product," said Michael Ryan, vice-president of marketing, Deep Foods.

The vegetarian pizzas use traditional Indian naan bread as their base. Each piece of naan is hand-stretched before it is baked in a clay tandoor oven at 1000°F, just as naan has been created for centuries. "You can’t have a larger-than-normal tandoor oven," Mr. Ryan said. "Each oven holds four pieces of naan, so the oven size must remain manageable by one employee."

The bread is directly applied to the side of the clay oven and removed with tongs after baking. The baked surface creates a nonporous surface perfect for pizza toppings, according to Mr. Ryan. After baking, the naan is immediately moved to a spiral freezer to ensure ultimate freshness. Toppings are added via an automated process.

The Original Naan Pizzas are available under the Tandoor Chef brand in Cilantro Pesto, Margherita, Roasted Eggplant and Spinach & Paneer Cheese varieties. Paneer, an unaged cheese made from cow’s milk, is the traditional Indian cheese. The company adds a touch of mozzarella cheese to the Spinach & Paneer variety to enhance familiarity and texture. New flavor varieties are slated for later this year.

The frozen pizzas, which are made entirely in India, are shrinkwrapped and boxed to protect product during transport. A 9-oz pizza retails for $2.99 and has a 1-year shelf life. After a December launch in Texas-based Whole Foods Market stores, the product is now available in mainstream supermarkets and the natural food channel.

"Innovation will continue to drive our success in 2010, and we’re sure this product, hand-stretched and made of all-natural ingredients, will further innovate the growing frozen specialty pizza category," said Deepak Amin, vice-president for Tandoor Chef and Deep Foods.

Approximately 1,800 people are employed by the company, primarily women, providing jobs for a group that normally would find it difficult to get
employment in India. The company also supports a local foundation that provides bikes, school equipment and writing tablets to children who might not have the means to afford equipment or transportion to school. Information about the foundation is shared with the company’s buyers but not with its consumer base,
according to Mr. Ryan.