First, Ozery’s Pita Break redefined the pita bread category with innovative, nutritious products. Now, the newly named Ozery Bakery Inc. plans to reinvent the flatbread and sandwich bun market as a whole.
By Dan Malovany
Alon and his brother Guy Ozery don’t believe in taking the road less traveled. To succeed in the highly competitive baking industry, their company needs to blaze its own path and boldly go where no business has gone before.
That’s especially true when it comes to product innovation.
“Our philosophy when it comes to developing products is not to come up with something that’s out there and not go directly against somebody,” says Alon, who with Guy is the co-president of Ozery’s Pita Break in Toronto.
“We love food. We love every city that we go to [and] every show that we go to,” he adds. “We go to restaurants and food markets. That’s how we know cities. We take ingredients from different foods and put them together and try to come up with products that aren’t already on the market.”
For some companies, rules are made to be broken. Ozery’s Pita Break takes it a step further. The intermediate wholesale bakery prefers to reinvent the rules as it goes along.
Thirteen years ago when Alon formed the company with his father, for instance, the small shop in downtown Toronto served wholesome sandwiches made on all-natural pitas baked fresh daily in the back of the house. The natural evolution was to open up new stores, but when its customers kept clamoring for the shop’s unique, all-natural pita bread, the company ignored conventional wisdom and opened a small wholesale operation instead.
“At the time, all existing pita breads and flatbreads were around 99 cents. They were cheap and thin and white and whole wheat,” Alon recalls. “We had a line of whole grain products with multigrain, with flax, with spelt at the time, and people were buying our pitas at greater rates.”
And consumers were willing to pay $2 a package for value-added pita bread, or double what others charged.
Then the company rolled out its breakfast muesli pita, which was loaded with whole grains and other natural ingredients, and targeted a new morning eating occasion for the Mediterranean staple. The toaster-friendly product also had one thing that no other pita bread had.
“It didn’t have a pocket in the middle like every pita has so we broke away from the traditional pita breads and came out with something different, and this created a new category in supermarkets,” Guy says. “Eventually, it was copied by all of the other companies trying to get into this segment of the market.”
Often imitated and never duplicated, the company now has introduced its Whole grainOneBun, which is a flat sandwich bun that can be used for “French toast, croutons, panini, toasting, dipping and even feeding the little league,” according to the back of the package. Originally, the company had developed a version of the product for a private label account a few years ago, but the latest version’s nutritional profile features 31 g. of whole grains per serving and contains Omega-3 polyunsaturates.
“It is calledOneBunbecause it’s a bun for everything,” Alon says. “It can be used as a mini pita. It can be used for toppings. It can be used like a tortilla or as a sandwich press. You can cut it and toast it up. You can do so many things with it that you can’t do with conventional buns. We’re very proud of it. We think it’s a great product.”
Introduced at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association show in Atlanta in June, the newOneBuncomes in three varieties. Currently, the 190-calorie product is available in a more conventional round shape for sandwiches and burgers. However, in addition to coming out with a consumer-friendly, 100-calorie variety, the company has developed a difficult-to-make, hot dog shapedOneBunthat’s truly unique to the market.
New Products, New Name
With an ever-expanding product portfolio of flatbread, including its all-natural whole grain line of lavash crackers, the company is once again changing its brand name for many of its new products. Although it will keep Ozery’s Pita Break name for pita items, the broader line of flatbreads, including itsOneBun, will now be sold under the more encompassingOzery Bakery Inc.brand.
The use of the family name reflects the continued evolution of the company and perpetual innovation in the overall flatbread segment. Take the bakery’s breakfast muesli, for instance. In many ways, the product isn’t really a pita. It’s shaped more like a scone or English muffin, and it contains a variety of flax, crack rye, millet meal, sunflower seeds, rolled oat and other grains that give it a complex texture. A tad of honey that provides a sweet note is countered by the use of a natural sour to give it its wholesome flavor.
“People were calling it a pita bread, but it was something completely different,” Alon says. “We changed the focus of our company from pita breads to flatbreads, and this whole family of products is doing amazing in stores.”
The strategy is to extend its unique approach to new products into new avenues of growth and, certainly, beyond its line of Kosher and preservative-free pitas, which are now considered more of a staple than an ethnic product in Toronto and throughout Canada.
“Pita is just a small part of the larger flatbread category,” Guy says.
Despite venturing into new categories, the company remains committed to its core philosophy of developing nutritious, all-natural, Kosher-certified products. Innovation doesn’t mean producing products that go against the Ozerys’ core values.
“As far as the ingredient trends, we have always been ahead of the market because we always use whole grains, or as much as we possibly can, and you can see today, a lot of the market has gone that way,” Guy says. “Even a larger number of companies are now going whole grains. They are following the trends of the innovators.”
Although the baking industry has embraced whole grains during the past five years, many companies still use ingredients that the Ozerys won’t, including dough conditioners, shelf stabilizers or other chemical preservatives.
“It’s easy to make baked goods with chemicals because you want softness,” Alon says. “It’s a great challenge to make quality baked goods without chemicals. You pay for it with shorter shelf life, but at least, you know when you give it to your kids, you’re safe.”
It’s an oxymoron, he adds, for bakers throughout North America to develop whole grain baked goods, which he calls a “great shift toward healthy eating,” and then add ingredients such as calcium propionate.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he says. “You’re giving consumers, on one hand, healthful benefits, but on the other, you are adding a chemical to their product.”
Overall, five of the company’s 13 all-natural pitas contain whole grains. Several products, including its whole grain pitas and its Organic Whole Wheat grain crackers, carry the Canadian Whole Grain Council’s stamp on their packages. The crackers, sold under theSkinny Dippers name, currently come in 6-in. strips that are about 1-in. wide and are sturdy enough for topping with spreads or dip. To provide portion control, the company is rolling out 1-in. square ones that provide greater usage in multiple eating occasions.
Earlier this year, the Ozerys’ commitment to all-natural, wholesome products paid off. The company received recognition from the Canadian Liver Foundation, which issued its 2009 LIVERight Awards to raise awareness of fatty liver disease resulting from poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles and is now the most common type of liver disease in North America.
In the second year of competition, the foundation received 90 submissions for awards in 12 categories. An independent panel of health experts, chefs and food editors, as well as a grade school class, judged the entries for taste, visual appeal and nutritional value. Ozery’s Pita Break captured three awards, including best breakfast item for its Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Pita, best lunchbox item for its Flax Pita and best family-friendly item for its Morning Grains Breakfast Pita.
Because of its products’ acceptance and success, the $30 million company continues to expand distribution. In addition to 12 trucks, which distribute fresh product throughout metropolitan Toronto and the rest of Ontario, common carriers deliver product to distribution centers as far as Montreal and throughout Quebec via brokers.
In addition, its products are shipped to a wide variety of retailers in dozens of states from the Northeast to the Midwest to California.
In the coming months, the company plans to broaden the distribution of itsOzery Bakery Inc. brand, headlined by the rollout of itsOneBunline throughout chains in the United States and Canada.
“We changed a lot of the last five years,” Guy says. “When we look at the market, we used to look at Toronto and Ontario. Today, we look at North America as our market. We want to be leaders in our category and in the clean label market. How big or small? We don’t know. You don’t know, when you swing, if you’re going to hit a home run or not, but we’ll be the best that we can.”
No doubt, the company will be looking to rewrite the rulebook as it continues to introduce new products in the market as well.
Editor’s Note: Go to www.snackandbakery.com for more about trends in the pita, flatbread and cracker categories.