Our first pizza is the one by all others will be judged, according to Tony Pellerite, director of marketing, pizza, Rich Products. "I think we all define pizza by what we grew up eating," he said. "Pizza is very regional with different profiles for each area."
Going beyond the ubiquitous New York fold and Chicago-style deep dish, pizza manufacturers are adapting the humble pie into a meal that can suit the tastes and dietary needs of any number of audiences, including gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian.
Rich Products, Buffalo, NY, produces dough balls, sheeted dough and ethnic flatbreads. Through its acquisition of French Meadow Bakery, the company also manufactures par-baked gluten-free dough. The company’s newest offering, an all-natural thin sheet pizza dough, qualifies as vegan.
"There’s a broadening definition of what pizza is to people, especially in terms of what the pizza is topped with," Mr. Pellerite said. "Every country has its flatbread, and I think pizza is America’s flatbread."
TRIED AND TRUE.
Champion Foods has found mainstream consumers still prefer the mainstays of cheese and pepperoni pizzas. A division of Village Holdings, the New Boston, MI-based company began as a manufacturer of crust for Little Caesars. Today the company produces topped pizza, take-and-bake breadsticks, flatbread pizzas and a new fundraising pizza kit.
While the company finds great success with traditional pizza varieties, it is also concentrating on "adult" flavors such as Margherita, Buffalo Chicken, BBQ Chicken and Spinach, Feta and Mushroom for its flatbread pizza line.
"In our focus groups we have found that people want a take-home or deli pizza that bakes up well and tastes like what you would eat in a pizzeria," said Peter Smith, marketing manager, Champion Foods. "Our requests are for 12- and 14-in. pizzas that you can take home, bake in 10 minutes and feed your family. Busy families are our market."
OLD SCHOOL METHODS.
Pizza remains an undeniable favorite and a quick and tasty meal, but many consumers are looking for a new level of quality in pizza that includes Old World processes — long fermentation, artisan-made crust, whole-milk cheese and gourmet ingredients.
Rustic Crust, Pittsfield, NH, manufactures Old World-style pizza and pizza crust. Its natural and organic crusts are baked on a stone hearth in a wood-fired oven to create a unique texture that locks in moisture.
Company research has found that the purchaser of these specialty pizzas is typically not a value-oriented consumer, but rather someone looking for a unique meal for one to two people. "Consumers are asking for multi-topping pizzas with Calamata olives, feta, artichokes and spinach. They aren’t asking for everyday pizza combos; they want more specialty products and ingredients," said Brad Sterl, president, Rustic Crust.
Crust is also an expanding market. The company’s shelf-stable products contain no added sugar and no preservatives. "This is a quick and cost-effective meal, as well as a fresher alternative with families choosing the toppings at home and applying them as they want," he said. "It’s an alternative to indulge at home with the same quality of product you would find in a restaurant."
Internet activity on the Rustic Crust Web site and blog has shown great interest in gluten-free and vegan cheese-free options. In late 2010 or early 2011, the company will launch a vegan wood-fired pizza and a gluten-free topped pizza. By mid-to-late 2011, the company will also add more single-serving varieties, which account for 25% of its sales.
The consumption of pizza isn’t typically viewed as anything out of the ordinary, but for individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, pizza is one of the first foods to go and often one of the most missed. Today what was once taboo has become one of the fastest-growing products in the gluten-free category.
Glutino, Laval, QB, manufactures glutenfree topped pizza, pizza crusts and pizza mixes. Last year, the company launched its BBQ Chicken pizza to rave reviews. In March, Glutino introduced a pepperoni variety.
Glutino’s pizzas are available with corn or brown rice crusts, depending on the variety. The brown rice style was created based on consumer requests for a more robust-flavored crust with a grainier texture. "We are looking to make pizzas that are popular with celiacs and non-celiacs alike by focusing on flavor and taste," said Laura Kuykendall, senior marketing manager, Glutino. "The classics are what our gluten-free audience asked for."
Improved texture and flavor in the gluten-free pizza category are also indirectly responsible for a jump in the request for larger 9- and 10-in. pizzas. Previously, gluten-free pizzas were created mainly in single-serve sizes for consumers avoiding gluten. Because of a wider range of varieties and an improved flavor and texture, however, non-celiacs are more willing to eat gluten-free pizza.
Shelly Malone, founder and c.e.o. of Clean Cravings, Los Angeles, CA, sought to create a pizza based on an anti-inflammatory diet, which eliminates dairy, soy, corn, gluten, wheat, sugar and yeast. "I missed eating pizza, yet I knew that the pizza I created would need to fit in with an anti-inflammatory diet and still be good for me," she said.
The company’s vegan-friendly Perfectly Pesto pizza was launched at this year’s Expo West, and the Very Veggie pizza, made with organic vegetables and a roasted red pepper sauce, will debut later this year. The thin crust pizzas are made from a blend of arrowroot, sorghum and brown rice flours.
TASTE AND HEALTH.
Living Right, Toronto, ON, also showcased its Veggie Deluxe and Cheese pizzas at Expo West in March. The co-packer, which has a line of mini pizzas, markets its products with the slogan, "Balancing Health and Great Taste." The company has observed a demand for whole-grain thin crust and healthier versions of pizzas made with fewer meat toppings.
"People are looking for pizzas that are made from organic ingredients whenever possible," said Chelsea Rae Hulse, marketing coordinator for Living Right. "We want to ensure that kids like the product and it’s something parents feel good about buying."
Mom Made Munchies offers a portable pizza pocket available in Cheese and Turkey Sausage varieties marketed for children. The Alexandria, VA-based company transformed pizza into a better-for-you option with the addition of cauliflower and sweet potato puree and a whole-grain crust.
The Cheese variety was introduced in June 2008. Spurred on by requests from parents, the company launched a protein-packed Turkey Sausage version this March at Expo West. "We use the veggies to bind and add nutritional aspects," said Heather Stouffer, Mom Made Munchies founder. "We’re not intentionally trying to hide the vegetables, but I think parents are attracted to these nutritional aspects, especially with very picky children. We recognize that children love pizza, so why not make it nutritionally better?"
Innovation and a focus on health were also catalysts for San Francisco, CA-based Peas of Mind. The company’s Peas of Pie Cheese pizza contains a thin wheat and barley crust that includes raw broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. One serving provides 1.5 servings of vegetables and 50% less fat than other cheese pizzas.
"The pizza market is pretty oversaturated for a reason because it’s not going anywhere," said Jill Litwin, founder and c.e.o. "I believe this leaves more opportunity for uniqueness in terms of flavor profiles, sizes and shapes."