Zeroing in on 'Zaaa

Great food, like great architecture, starts with a solid foundation. Whether it’s flour and water or bricks and mortar, a magnificent structure emerges to captivate the senses. Well-designed foods, like beautifully designed buildings, become icons for cities and symbols for nations, amazing us with inventive and ahead-of-their-time construction. What would France be without its bouillabaisse? What would Chicago be without the deep-dish pizza? How did that Naples baker, so long ago, think to put tomato sauce, Gdough and cheese together anyway?

America has taken pizza and turned it into one of its own great gastronomical wonders. Upscale restaurants now serve pizza as appetizers and main courses, taking the simple dough and building it from the ground up with standard ingredients like cheese and sauce or unique additions like roasted garlic, pine nuts or imported cheeses.

No doubt pizzerias and restaurants inspire their freezer case counterparts. So inspiring, in fact, that frozen pizzas are now truly giving pizzerias a run for their money. According to Chicago-based Information Resources, Inc., frozen pizza sales are up 2.8% for 52 weeks ending December 28, 2003, with more than $2 billion in total sales.

With new regulations and new opportunities, frozen pizza is ready to renovate the freezer case with new and innovative products.
And according to Laura Trevino, director of retail business in the snack food division for McCain Foods USA, Inc., frozen and refrigerated pizzas are projected to represent 12.7% of the overall pizza category in 2004. Not only do frozen pizzas offer the convenience of a meal in your home without waiting for delivery – or tipping the delivery man – but the flavor factor in frozen pizzas is comparable these days to restaurant-style quality, partially thanks to new product innovation and thanks to a federal ruling effective in October 2003 officially changing the standard of identity for frozen pizzas.
As noted in the Federal Register, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) rescinded the regulatory standards of identity for “pizza with meat” and “pizza with sausage.”
Frozen Pizza(for 52-weeks ended December 28, 1998)
Dollar Volume
(in millions)
Unit Sales
(in millions)
1 DiGiorno
2 Tombstone
3 Red Baron
4 Freschetta
5 Private Label
6 Totino’s Party Pizza
7 Tony’s
8 Stouffer’s
9 Jack’s Original
10 Celeste Pizza for One
*including brands not shown

SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Supermarkets, Drug Stores and Mass Merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart


“We’re excited about this because it gives the opportunity to look at new ideas for frozen pizza,” says Bob Garfield, executive director of the National Frozen Pizza Institute. Previously, if manufacturers wanted to label a pizza as “pepperoni” or “sausage” or the like, a certain percentage of the entire pizza weight had to come from the topping. The problem, then, was that pizzas weren’t hot and piping with ooey-gooey cheese, but dripping with slippy-drippy grease from the meat. If companies cut back on the meat toppings, they had to label their pizzas “cheese pizza with pepperoni flavor” or something similar.
Currently, for a limited time following the ruling, the Federal Register also states that manufacturers must have “labels of products identified as meat or poultry pizzas in their common or usual names [to] include the percent of meat or poultry in the product in a parenthetical statement that is contiguous to the ingredient statement.”
Since some consumers still rely on standards to identify what constitutes a pizza, this labeling will last for three years post-ruling while everyone gets used to the newfound ideas of what pizza is and can be.
Moreover, the new ruling provides pizza producers with even greater flexibility and to still call the product a pizza. Previously, if they still wanted to call it a pizza, manufacturers couldn’t make sauces with a roasted garlic Alfredo or pesto instead of the basic tomato sauce, or even no sauce at all. Restaurants could do it. Frozen pizza producers couldn’t.
“Now you can have an anything frozen pizza. Anything that can be imagined that can compete with restaurant-style pizza,” Garfield says. “Anything that can be done in restaurant pizzas can be done in frozen pizzas. It’s leveled the playing field.”
Building Additions
Now that everyone is playing by the same rules, pizza manufacturers and pizzerias are upping the ante again. Pizza is fair game as far as trend-setting goes, and no trend is left unturned.
On January 20, Columbus, Ohio-based Donatos Pizzeria rolled out a low-carb pizza, addressing the needs of low-carb diners. The pizza base is made of high-protein, low-carb soy crumbles, holding the sauce, cheese and toppings used on standard pizzas. While the carb-friendly pizza can’t be held in the hand, people looking for the best of both worlds don’t seem to mind taking a knife and fork to the pie.
Pizza’s proliferation is due not only to innovation in the category, but also to the fact that, of fast-foods, it’s got an increasing rep as being good-for-you. The perception on pizza is that it’s better than the deep-fried super-sized meals crisscrossing the fast-food landscape. In many ways, it’s more nutritionally balanced.
“I think people are looking at pizzas as a healthier type of dinner,” Trevino says. “Or as a healthier type of snack over other snack foods. When you talk to consumers, it’s got bread, it’s got vegetables, it’s got dairy, and you can add meat if you want all four food groups.”
Having a healthy perception is a bonus for frozen pizza manufacturers, but the real selling point is getting the pizzeria taste right out of your oven.
Frozen pizza long ago did away with the cardboard-like crust and scant toppings. In 1996, consumers saw the rise of self-rising crust pizza hit the freezer case, building a whole new segment of super-premium frozen pizzas.
Now, says Darci Eckermann, director of marketing services for Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America,  “If you look at the super-premium segment the growth rate of 5.5% is what is really driving the whole pizza category,” upping the overall category about 2.0%, according to AC Nielsen data for a 52-week period ending January 10, 2004.
Rolling out new products into the super-premium segment is key to keeping pizza on the rise, “and when growth is extrapolated and innovation is taken away, growth really slows down,” Eckermann notes.
Freschetta pizza, owned by Marshall, Minn.-based Schwan’s, has been a leading player in pizza innovation. Last year the company rolled out its Brick Oven pizza, created by the in-house Freschetta brand team, the Schwan’s R&D team and the Freschetta Culinary Council made up of five chefs and noted restauranteurs throughout the nation.
The pizza is square with a brick-oven style crust, more like a restaurant-style pizza that consumers are asking for. The Brick Oven pizzas are available in innovative flavors like Italian Pepperoni, Five Italian Cheese, Classic Supreme, Three Cheese and Bacon, Southwest Chicken and Spinach and Roasted Portobello Mushroom.
To follow up the success of the Brick Oven pizza, Schwan’s will roll out an 8-in. version in March, in five new flavors, with one overlapping flavor as in the 12-in.
“This product really does address the growing need for one to two-person households who are looking for that restaurant quality taste and also convenience,” Eckermann says.
The 8-in Brick Oven pizzas will be available in Roasted Potato, Bacon and Cheese, Five Italian Cheese, Smoked Ham and Portobello Mushroom, BBQ Style Chicken and Thai Style Chicken varieties.
Most companies are tapping into the ultra-premium category with one offering or another. Home Run Inn, widely known for its standard pizzas with sausage, cheese or pepperoni in the frozen case, turned it up a notch introducing a cheese and crushed plum tomatoes thin crust pizza last year. Also, the Woodridge, Ill.-based company launched a new line of deep-dish Chicago style pizzas under the Perrino’s brand last May.
“Everything we do is geared toward bringing a restaurant quality pizza to the retailer,” says Jay Williams, president of Power Play Distributors, the company that distributes Home Run Inn pizza. “In essence, we want customers to move from the carry out or delivery to the frozen section for their pizza.”

Kid-Friendly Playgrounds
While the super-premium segment is burning white hot in these cold winter days, frozen pizza manufacturers aren’t only looking at how to appeal to adult consumers. Many manufacturers are taking a closer look at the short-stack appeal of pizza, and how kids can help keep the upswing of frozen pizza from coming back down.
“When you talk to kids and you ask them draw a picture of their favorite kind of pizza, in most of the U.S. they draw a circle or a triangle like a slice. In the northeast they draw a rectangle, because that the shape of Ellio’s,” Trevino says.
An institution in the northeastern U.S. pizza world, Ellio’s gears its pizza to kids, taking into consideration how they want their pizza.
“There are three slices of pizza in each box, and you can break each slice of pizza into three. Portionability is key for moms and the slices fits kids’ hands,” Trevino explains. “Kids say Ellio’s doesn’t have a crust because it doesn’t have a lip. So it’s end to end toppings.”
The young consumer is a key demographic to capture, and an easy one to cater to, because unlike premium and super-premium pizza segments, kids aren’t necessarily looking for upscale pizza toppings or a low-fat, healthy meal.
Trevino explains that the health issues of today – low carb and trans fat – are certainly important. And even more importantly, Ellio’s, which is geared toward kids ages six to 12, has no trans fat.
“Consumers tell us that their health mindset, when it comes to kids, is to provide them with a well-balanced diet. There just needs to be a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fat,” Trevino says.
General Mills-owned Totino’s Pizza also looks to kids for its market base, addressing flavor trends with its latest introductions.
“In the summer of 2003, we introduced two new Totino’s Party Pizza flavors, Three Cheese and Mexican style,” notes Mariana Quiroga, marketing manager for Totino’s Pizza. “With our current line up of 12 varieties of Totino’s pizza, we think we’re providing the flavors that meet the needs of the frozen pizza consumer. Totino’s appeals both to households with kids and to younger, smaller households because its broad variety suits the many different flavor preferences.”
While many adults may take kids’ opinions for granted, frozen pizza manufacturers know that that opinion is very important and very influential to the mom buying the product. Tony’s pizza, another frozen pizza brand under the Schwan’s umbrella, launched Tony’s Pouches in 2003.
“The R&D team that developed this product really had kids in mind,” Eckermann explains. “I am specifically referencing examples like the dough was created specifically for kids. We conducted consumer tests with kids and this was the dough style they chose. The packaging was designed to better fit kids preparing the product. It’s easier to use, easier to open, easier to cook.”
The flavor profiles of the products are more kid-friendly as well, with varieties like Cheesy Meatball, Ham & Cheese, Philly Steak & Cheese, Cheeseburger and Pepperoni.
With the blueprints laid out and the proverbial nails in place, frozen pizza sure is shaping up to be one of the greatest architectural achievements – of the food world, that is.