Feeling Puckish

Wolfgang Puck is one of the world's best-known chefs and restaurateurs, and he has developed quite a presence on grocery store shelves. Now, he is joining with one of the nation's frozen food leaders to deliver a gourmet frozen pizza.

Wolfgang Puck Worldwide and Schwan's Consumer Brands North America are launching Wolfgang Puck all-natural pizzas as part of an exclusive frozen food partnership. The line is part of the family of his hand-crafted gourmet pizzas famous at his fine dining and fast-casual establishments. The company notes the product includes fresh, hand-cut toppings, a pure-flavor sauce and Puck's honey-infused crusts that are hand-stretched and brushed with olive oil before baking.

The six varieties in the line include cheese, pepperoni, four-cheese (blending mozzarella, Fontina, Parmesan and creamy goat cheese), spicy chicken (with red pepper flakes), barbecue chicken (with red onions, tomatoes and topped with Wolfgang's own barbecue sauce) and margherita.

Popping Time

Frozen pizzas may not be particularly new to store shelves. For that matter, licensing of well-known restaurant brands is not a terribly new concept, either. However, a recent launch of a restaurant-branded frozen pizza does have an innovation which seems simple but may prove revolutionary.

The pop-up timer is not a new invention, yet Gino's East of Chicago's Authentic Chicago Deep Dish Pizza is the first frozen pizza to implement the tool to help consumers “bake a perfect pizza.” Consumers place the pizza (either thawed or frozen) directly on the oven rack and cook it at 400°F until the pop-up timer pops up, typically 30 to 40 minutes (25 to 35 if thawed).

The technology is not the only “first” associated with the product, however. This marks the initial store-shelf appearance for Gino's East. Nostalgic Foods has licensed the company's moniker for the line and notes each 2-lb frozen pizza is handmade, promising a super-premium quality using the same ingredients and recipe with the “secret” golden crust which has garnered Gino's East worldwide acclaim.

Good for What Ales You

Last year saw the introduction of Anheuser-Busch's seasonal beer program. The company offered a variety of ales coinciding with various seasons—Bourbon Cask Ale in the winter, Spring Heat Spiced Wheat, Beach Bum Blonde Ale in the summer and Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale in the fall. Word comes that the latter has returned for the second year of the program, and it has added a new presentation as well.

Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale is a copper ale with the flavors and aromas of pumpkin, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and clove. While in the previous incarnation it was only available on draught, this year sees Jack's Pumpkin Spice available in bottles as well.

“We already knew Jack's was a hit with beer enthusiasts when it was out on-draught, so making it available in bottles this year was an easy decision,” explains Bruce Eames, innovation manager with Anheuser-Busch.

Have Heart

The health benefits of dark chocolate unearthed in recent years surprised many people, pleasantly so. Mars Inc. is hoping to bring many of those same healthful qualities to milk chocolate.

The company's cocoa-research program has developed CocoaVia Milk Chocolate, promising a combination of cocoa flavanols, heart-healthy compounds found naturally in cocoa beans, and plant sterols, which can lower cholesterol. The CocoaVia milk chocolate line is in limited distribution now and will launch nationwide in 2007. Varieties will include CocoaVia Milk Chocolate Bars, CocoaVia Milk Chocolate Bars with Almonds and CocoaVia Milk Chocolate-covered Raisins.

Also on CocoaVia's agenda is the line's first beverage. CocoaVia Rich Chocolate Indulgence has been in limited distribution since October. Each serving of the beverage has at least 100mg of cocoa flavanols, the same amount as CocoaVia's dark chocolate products.