Extreme Makeover: Pizza Edition

June 1, 2007
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PIZZA
Extreme Makeover: Pizza Edition
By Kathie Canning

The Design Team has been working overtime — performing a makeover of massive proportions on the frozen pizza category. For the past 10 years or so, they’ve gutted the crust framework, rehabbed the sauce and upgraded the toppings.
One of the Design Team’s most recent “special projects” called for some outside health and wellness expertise from R&D experts.
The result? A whole new “wing” dedicated to better-for-you frozen pizzas.
In fact, health and wellness is one of four growing segments on which Kraft Foods of Northfield, Ill., is focusing, according to company spokesperson Lisa Gibbons. (The other three are premium, snacking and quick meals).
Take, for example, the company’s new South Beach Diet frozen microwaveable pizzas. Available in four single-serve varieties — Grilled Chicken & Vegetable, Deluxe, Pepperoni and Four-Cheese — the pizzas contain at least 30 g. of protein and 9 g. of fiber to help satisfy hunger. Each has 350 or fewer calories per serving.
Not to be outdone, Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods rolled out single-serve, lower-fat Healthy Choice Café Selections pizzas. Varieties include Italian-Style Pepperoni, Gourmet Supreme and Four-Cheese. The products became available in freezer cases this June.
Healthy Choice Café Selections pizzas are restaurant-inspired combinations of seasoned meats, real cheeses, tangy pizza sauce and a blend of Italian herbs,” notes Regina DeMars, a company spokesperson. “They heat in the microwave in less than two minutes, allowing consumers to enjoy great taste in little time and without the guilt.”
Meanwhile, Spokane, Wash.-based AC LaRocco Pizza Co. teamed up with SuperFoods Partners LLC, Irvine, Calif., to develop and distribute a line of “ultra-healthy” SuperFoodsRx Kitchen pizzas. Based on the best-selling series of SuperFoodsRx books, the multi-serving pizzas were unveiled at the Natural Products Expo West 2007 show in March.
Offered in Vegetarian Blend, Four-Cheese, and Turkey and Spinach renditions, the pizzas are built on a proprietary whole-grain, high-fiber thin crust, AC LaRocco says. They also boast a lower fat and sodium profile than that of traditional pizzas.
Petaluma, Calif.-based Amy’s Kitchen also has been busy in the better-for-you arena, adding single-serve options to its popular Amy’s frozen pizza line, which incorporates many organic ingredients. New downsized varieties include Cheese, Spinach, Mushroom & Olive, Roasted Vegetable and Pesto.
Frozen Pizza — Top 10 Brands
(For 52 weeks ending April 22, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1DiGiorno$460.0-3.417.2-1.2
2Red Baron$280.8+8.810.5+0.5
3Tombstone$244.3-5.79.1-0.9
4Private Label$185.7-3.07.0-0.5
5Freschetta$170.6-8.86.4+0.3
6Totinos Party Pizza$143.8-2.45.4-0.3
7Tony’s$126.2-5.14.7-0.4
8California Pizza Kitchen$125.0+33.84.7+1.1
9Stouffers$92.1-0.53.5-0.1
10Jack’s Totino’s Original$82.5-2.33.1-0.2
Total, including brands not shown$2,672.7+3.5 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
Life Choices Foods of Toronto introduced healthed-up pizza options as well — this time in a mini format packaged four to a box. Life Choices’ Cheese and Betteroni (made with nitrite-free pepperoni) varieties boast an organic seven-grain crust and contain no additives, preservatives, artificial flavors or colors.
Even Kashi Co. plans to grab a piece of the healthful pizza action. It recently announced plans to launch Kashi all-natural frozen pizzas in July. The La Jolla, Calif.-based company says the multi-serving pizzas feature a whole-grain and sesame blend crust with flax seeds and ALA Omega-3 fatty acids.
Meanwhile, newcomer Greg Christian Organics of Chicago introduced three varieties of frozen thin-crust single-serve Greg Christian Organic pizza (Cheese, Sausage and Mushroom), promising a “wholesome spin” on the traditional American favorite.
“People want healthy, but are not willing to give up flavor,” notes Greg Christian, company founder and president. “[Our pizza] hits the savory mark with great fresh ingredients — locally grown is used when possible.”
Hello, Premium Family!
Yet another recent Design Team special project took on the “Premium” family’s residence. Although the team found the basic structure to be sound, an addition of major proportions was called for.
Once again, they turned to the R&D experts, who agreed that the addition needed to be both tasteful and convenient.
“Taste is always important in any food category, but particularly in pizza — it is one of those craving types of food categories,” says Mark Jansen, vice president-product strategy for Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, a division of The Schwan Food Co.
Schwan recently took taste to the max when it partnered with Chef Wolfgang Puck to create Wolfgang Puck all-natural frozen pizzas. Inspired by Puck’s restaurant offerings, the multi-serving pizzas come in Spicy Chicken, Margherita, Four Cheese and three other flavorful varieties.
Jansen stresses that the pizzas not only are gourmet in quality, but also are made with all-natural ingredients. Schwan, therefore, hopes to attract a consumer demographic that traditionally did not participate heavily in the frozen pizza sector.
The company also introduced a high-quality pizza concept to the refrigerated side of the store. Its new Freschetta Build and Bake line, typically displayed in or near the deli, includes individually packaged cheese, meat, crust and sauce.
“The idea is that you can truly speed up the process of baking from scratch,” Jansen says. “But because there’s a strong assembly element — and increasingly assembly equals ‘handmade’ or ‘homemade’ for consumers — they really get a lot of that emotional connection and the ability to customize.”
Adding to the deli premium pizza category is the Family Finest Take2Bake pizza and breadsticks combo from Champion Foods of New Boston, Mich. Shipped frozen and packaged to showcase the product inside, it is designed to be merchandised in the refrigerated case.
Yet another premium new pizza offering — this one billed as “super-premium” — is Kraft’s DiGiorno Ultimate line. The pizza promises a pizzeria-style crust, a crushed vine-ripened tomato sauce, premium cheeses, specialty meats and julienne vegetables. Available in 12 Midwest markets in Ultimate Four Cheese, Ultimate Pepperoni, Ultimate Four Meat and Ultimate Supreme varieties, the pizzas will go on sale nationwide in July.
“We’re going after an even bigger slice of the pizza pie,” says John Boswell, senior vice president and general manager of the pizza category for Kraft Foods. “We’re setting our sights on the $20 billion local pizzeria business. By expanding our frame of reference, we’re now playing in the entire $35 billion pizza market.”
Patty’s Gourmet Pizza, Marina Del Ray, Calif., also looks like fierce competition for pizzerias. The company recently launched its Patty’s Pizza Pizza Margherita — based on the success of its fresh take-and-bake line served at fine restaurants and hotels across the nation. The frozen pizza has a hand-crafted classic crust topped with sun-dried and roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, fresh basil and a premium blend of Mozzarella, Provolone, Monterey Jack and mild Cheddar cheeses.
For Chicago-based Iltaco Foods, premium flavor wasn’t good enough when it came to planning one of its latest creations. The pizza also had to be big — very big.
The result is Chicago Avenue Pizza brand The Big Pizza, a 3-lb., 14-in. self-rising giant that claims to be one of the largest frozen pizzas available nationwide. Each Sausage, Pepperoni, Deluxe, Supreme or Four-Cheese pizza feeds as many as eight people.
Move That Crust!
When asked to reveal current crust trends in extreme pizza makeovers, the Design Team leaned toward thin.
And thin was indeed the choice for the latest frozen offerings from Milwaukee-based Palermo’s. The company’s new Primo (Italian for “first”) pizzas sport an ultra-thin, crispy crust and are available in 10 varieties (including creative spins such as Greek and Ham & Fire-Roasted Pineapple).
Others think that thin is a winner, too.
“Thin is where the growth is coming from,” Jansen says. “We launched Freschetta Ultra Thin a year ago, and it quickly became a big business for us. Our Red Baron Thin Crust launched two years ago, and it’s also been a growing business for us. ... But I do think that one of the great things about pizza, in many cases, is the crust. And that’s the reason we’re working really hard to call out crust [styles] on all of our brands’ packaging.”
Tune in next year for “Extreme Makeover: Pizza Edition.” Who knows what the future holds for this tasty frozen category? SOI
… and Call Me in the Morning
Want to lower your cholesterol? Forget the pills — eat a pizza instead!
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized a health claim on the relationship between dietary intake of plant sterols and a reduced risk of heart disease. And at least one manufacturer is touting it.
Hearth Healthy Road Pizza, developed by the Road Pizza Co. of Merrillville, Ind., is infused with heart-healthy plant sterols. Company founder Ira Scott says he is calling on “mom and pop” pizzerias to try out his new patent-pending thin-crust pizza recipe. The all-natural heart healthy frozen pizzas also will be offered to convenience stores and natural food chains such as Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s.

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