Slice of Life: The Evolution of Artisan Cheeses and Crusts
While Italian foods appear to be almost completely mainstream, manufacturers are pushing the envelope with creative toppings and sauces; more convenient approaches; and even items that meet the needs of food-allergic consumers.
Mintel Menu Insights finds the number of U.S. menu items with poultry as an ingredient climbed an average of 12% over the past three years. In pizza, that number is even more pronounced: The pizza segment has seen a 26% increase in chicken as a topping. Papa John’s features a Buffalo chicken pizza, as well as a chicken Parmesan option. Mazzio’s recently launched a Sweet and Spicy BBQ Chicken Pizza, and Domino’s, The Loop and Papa Gino’s all added chicken options to their artisan specialty ranges. Meanwhile, Pie Five Pizza added a Sweet Thai Pie with diced chicken.
The move toward chicken should be little surprise. Restaurant trends, to some degree, revolve around what consumers crave at home, and the demand has surged in recent years for familiar comfort foods—such as roasted chicken, meat loaf, and macaroni and cheese. In turn, restaurant chains are adding such concepts to their menus, and manufacturers are incorporating the ideas into their grocery store options. Hot Pockets, for example, has taken such comforting staples as macaroni and cheese, barbecue and chili dogs and found inspiration for Limited Edition Hot Pockets. The Four Cheese Garlic Pasta Bake features baked pasta, creamy garlic sauce and four different cheeses, while Spicy Hawaiian Pizza Hot Pockets promise a “volcanic eruption of spicy pizza and pineapple goodness.” The line also has included Chili Sauce Cheese Dog and BBQ Recipe Bacon Burger varieties. The limited-edition notion has even expanded into the brand’s more health-oriented Lean Pockets, with Lean Pockets Limited Edition Three Cheese Tomato Melt, comprised of tomatoes, low-fat mozzarella, and reduced-fat Cheddar and provolone cheeses.
In essence, the notion of a Hot Pocket is little different from a calzone, a stuffed-crust pizza that until recently had been all but absent from national chains’ delivery menus. With P’Zones from Pizza Hut, that void was filled, and now the company has taken the stuffed-crust concept even further, by making an entire pie one big, stuffed crust. The Overstuffed Pizza is essentially a regular pizza with an extra layer of crust on top, basically a flattened calzone, available in two varieties: Italian Meat Trio (with pepperoni and two kinds of sausage) and Supremo (with Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms).
Nestle’s DiGiorno pizza brand found a great deal of marketing success with the “It’s Not Delivery, It’s DiGiorno” campaign, but the brand has expanded on the concept. With the economy still growing only in fits and starts, the latest marketing effort for the frozen pizza looks to cater to an increasingly value-conscious consumer. As Nestle notes, a national survey found 90% of consumers look for incentives to get more for their money when purchasing food, and value was one of the highest ranking factors among decision-makers.
That sentiment was echoed in the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) finding that concern with price and value has increased by as much as 15% during the last seven years. The latest effort by DiGiorno to capitalize on those facts was what the company terms “the Law of Pizzaplicity.” Basically, it states that consumers can purchase two DiGiorno 12-inch Rising Crust Pizzas for the same price as one delivery pizza.
“While we know that taste is always king, we aim to show consumers that they can get great taste, along with great value, by choosing two DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizzas for the same price as one standard delivery pizza,” said Tom Moe, marketing director for DiGiorno Pizza. “There are no coupons needed and no tips to pay. Consumers can take advantage of this great value every day, anytime they want.” Nestle notes research finding that nearly two thirds of Americans (65%) prefer frozen food from their freezers, as opposed to ordering out or having food delivered.
That said, the market for delivery pizza with an allergen focus has emerged as a definite trend, with the notion expanding well outside of America. Domino’s Pizza is the first pizza delivery company in the U.K. to boast a line of pizzas suitable for sufferers of celiac disease. Coeliac U.K., the country’s national charity for people with celiac disease, has lent its support to the gluten-free options from Domino’s, which, unlike other gluten-free products both in pizzas and other areas of the food market, charges no premium price for the gluten-free option. In fact, Domino’s gluten-free pizza is available for the same price as its other pizzas.
The move to a gluten-free option was not a quick decision, the company notes. It would require four years of searching for a supplier who could provide a high-quality, consistent gluten-free base.
As Domino’s sales and marketing manager Simon Wallis explains, “We worked long and hard with Coeliac U.K. and our new product development team to develop a product which is not only gluten-free but really tastes great, too. We hope the product will bring the enjoyment of pizza to a new set of customers who, until now, haven’t been able to tuck into a Domino’s with their friends and family.” Domino’s explains that each gluten-free pizza, just like its other pizzas, is made to order from scratch and may be ordered without cheese to create a dairy-free pizza option, as well.
Back stateside, a pizza chain probably best known for fun over its food has likewise added a gluten-free option. Chuck E. Cheese is adding two gluten-free items to its menu: a gluten-free individual-sized cheese pizza and a chocolate fudge cupcake. The chain is quick to note the products also address any parent’s concerns about cross-contamination: Each is individually packaged during the production process and is cooked and delivered to the table still sealed. The pizza even has its own sealed pizza cutter. Chuck E. Cheese notes the pizza is made at Conte’s Pasta’s certified gluten-free facility in New Jersey, while the cupcakes are from Fabe’s All Natural Bakery in California.
As Domino’s version of gluten-free crust met with some initial resistance (in fact, the company faced quite a degree of cross-contamination issues when it began offering a gluten-free crust in the U.S. in mid-2012), gluten-free consumers tended to rely on tried-and-true favorites for their pizza options. Luckily for those consumers, recent years have seen the market for gluten-free pizza blossom in grocery stores. Where these consumers at one time had to rely on their own expertise in making a gluten-free crust and then add their own toppings and sauces, a number of celiac-friendly crusts have made their way to shelves. It was only a matter of time before entire, gluten-free pizzas would be available.
Indeed, that day has come, in spades. Glutino offers a range of gluten-free pizzas: individual pies available in Pepperoni (topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses, and all-natural pepperoni), Spinach and Feta (with, naturally enough, spinach and feta cheese); BBQ Chicken (topped with sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce, a blend of mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses, and all-natural chicken); and Duo Cheese (topped with a zesty tomato sauce and a blend of mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses).
Interestingly, not all of the Glutino pizzas feature the same type of gluten-free crust; the Pepperoni, BBQ Chicken and Duo Cheese varieties feature a brown rice crust comprised of water, brown rice flour, rice starch, potato starch, olive oil, sugar, tapioca starch, potato flour, yeast, cellulose, salt and seasonings. However, the Spinach and Feta option has a corn-based crust. Nevertheless, rice flour and tapioca starch are among the chief go-to options for gluten-free pizza manufacturers: The Grainless Baker has a thin-crust gluten-free frozen pizza with a rice flour and tapioca starch crust; it is topped with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and spices.
For its take on gluten-free pizzas, Amy’s Kitchen opts for a rice crust similar to the Glutino range. Amy’s varieties include a Plain Cheese Pizza and a Spinach Soy Cheese Pizza, which is both vegan, and gluten- and casein-free. For each, the company uses organic sweet rice flour, organic potatoes and organic tapioca flour; the key difference being the mozzarella cheese atop the Plain Cheese Pizza, while the Spinach Soy Cheese option has soy-based mozzarella and ricotta “cheeze.” The company is quick to note that it tests for gluten contamination down to 5ppm, as does The Grainless Baker, Bold Organics and Ian’s Natural Foods.
Bold Organics, as a company, has a focus on the gluten-free, dairy-free pizza segment, boasting no fewer than four frozen pizzas free of gluten and dairy. The line includes a Plain Cheese (a non-dairy cheese substitute), Veggie Lovers (full of seasonal vegetables, such as organic roasted red peppers, yellow onions and shiitake mushrooms), Meat Lovers (with uncured pepperoni and Italian sausage) and Deluxe (pepperoni, Italian sausage, red peppers, yellow onions and shiitake mushrooms)—the first two being suitable for consumers following a vegan diet. As part of its gluten-free certification through the Celiac Sprue Association, Bold Organics tests its frozen pizzas to 5ppm.
Ian’s Natural Foods offers a range of gluten-free options that many celiac sufferers had likely given up hope of seeing: namely, a French bread pizza. Ian’s makes two different varieties of its gluten-free French bread pizza: cheese and pepperoni, and a gluten-free, casein-free option topped with a mozzarella-style, soy-based cheese alternative.
The contamination issue is a key concern for many celiacs, and it can frequently prove to be a deciding factor in choosing products. That said, numerous companies tout their products as containing “no gluten ingredients,” including Whole Foods, which offers a vegan frozen pizza. The 365 Vegan Pizza is topped with roasted vegetables and is manufactured in a facility where gluten is also processed. However, despite “good manufacturing procedures” to avoid cross-contamination, the pizza is not tested for gluten content.
After establishing a niche for itself among gluten-free bread and bakery staples, Udi’s Gluten Free Foods has expanded into gluten-free frozen pizzas. Available in Pepperoni, Margherita and 3-Cheese (mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano) varieties, Udi’s frozen pizza is made in a 100% dedicated, certified gluten-free bakery.
As Denise Sirovatka, vice president of marketing, explains: “Our goal is to create delicious, wholesome foods for all meals, so gluten-free customers have the same eating and shopping experience as others.”
Beyond the Pie
Sbarro, in efforts to rebuild after several years of decline, has added a Neapolitan-style pizza, an Italian-inspired pizza replacing its long-standing recipe. The chain also has added made-to-order pasta stations and, in prototype restaurants, has seen sales jump more than 10%.
While some companies may be venturing away from the dairy connection to pizza, one chain is experimenting temptingly close to the line of a whole new take on pizza—and dairy. In Philadelphia, an ice cream shop has taken pizza into new territory: ice cream. Little Baby’s Ice Cream is well known for its unusual ice cream options, boasting Earl Grey Sriracha, Sour Cherry, and Honey and Strawberry Pinkpeppercorn flavors. It has taken unexpected ice cream flavors into orbit with pizza ice cream, made with a blend of tomato paste, basil, garlic, tomato concentrate and oregano leaves, plus fresh dairy cream.
In case the flavor of pizza in ice cream is not enough, consumers may also opt to have the aroma of the dish. When Pizza Hut Canada posted a photo of Pizza Hut Perfume on its Facebook page, it was a joke. Less than 30 minutes later, several thousand users had responded to say they would like a bottle. Pizza Hut then joined with Grip Digital to create 100 bottles of limited-edition Pizza Hut perfume, with Pizza Hut’s director of marketing, Beverly D’Cruz, noting the perfume was more about entertainment than odor. “We discovered it was hard to match the smell of freshly baked bread, but (the perfume) smells somewhat close,” before noting it could give a room the aroma of pizza.