Pizza Pandemic
By Maria Pilar Clark
Healthier toppings and thinner crusts are symptomatic of the consumer fervor that’s driving manufacturers to innovate new products that are fattening up the pizza segment’s bottom line.
A renowned team of doctors have just named pizza the No. 1 miracle cure-all, said to alleviate unsavory ills and help shed unwanted belly fat.
Well, not quite, but pizza can have a place in our diets as a healthful food, depending on the type eaten and whether it’s done in moderation.
Frozen Pizza Brands
(Latest 52 weeks ending Jan. 22, 2006)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) Dollar % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change
1 DiGiorno $485.1 -4.86 18.78 -0.67
2 Red Baron $262.8 +7.25 10.17 +0.83
3 Tombstone $260.6 -8.79 10.09 -0.81
4 Private Label $187.3 +4.80 7.25 +0.43
5 Freschetta $159.7 -14.63 6.18 -0.95
6 Totino’s Party $147.7 -8.08 5.72 -0.41
7 Tony’s $135.2 -11.35 5.23 -0.58
8 Stouffers $91.2 -1.99 3.53 -0.02
9 California Pizza Kitchen $85.1 +68.72 3.29 +1.37
10 Jack’s Original $83.7 -8.73 3.24 -0.26
  TOTAL* $2,583.2 billion -1.47 100.0
*Including brands not shown
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Total U.S. — F/D/MX (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart)
Don’t believe it? Just dissect a pizza Margherita. This variety contains cereal-based flour for energy, heart-healthy olive oil, vitamin-packed tomatoes and calcium-rich Mozzarella cheese. In addition, basil, garlic and oregano all are proven immunity boosters, and while not exactly breath fresheners, can aid in maintaining gastrointestinal health.
To enhance sales, pizza producers are creating healthier options, including über thin-crust and organic pies that are fattening up the pizza segment’s bottom line … not yours.
These healthfully thin, new ICUs (intensely cheesy units) are equipped with state-of-the-art topping essentials, including lean meats, fresh vegetables, real cheese and robustly flavored sauces.
Why throw out the pep with the pepperoni?
Richelieu Foods, Inc., a $100 million private label and contract packing food company, has found that its organic pizza offerings are having a significant impact on its current sales, and even are impacting plans for future line extensions.
“Every retailer faces the same type of consumers, and with the increase in [health] awareness, they must consider the organic trends, which are the fastest growing segment, [which] translates into increased demand,” says Anthony P. Raucci, Richelieu’s senior vice president of sales and business development.
The Braintree, Mass.-based producer recently introduced a line of fresh-tasting organic pizzas, including unique, not typically seen before flavors, such as Uncured Pepperoni, Spinach and Feta, and Mediterranean.
The company also employs modified atmosphere packaging (M.A.P.), which, according to Raucci, “is the best technique to use in extending shelf life” because it eliminates oxygen from the pizza package.
Schwan Foods also keeps consumers checking in with its new Freschetta Ultra Thin Crust pizzas, which deliver an upscale eating experience on a lighter, thinner, bistro-quality crust.
“Today’s consumers are more culinary sophisticated, as well as health conscious, so in order to appeal to the broadest range, we believe that we need to continue to offer a variety of crust and topping combinations to maintain the ‘excitement’ in the retail category, while also delivering new applications of traditional favorites,” says Mark Jansen, vice president of product strategy for Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, Inc.  
AC Nielsen data gathered by Schwan notes that thin crust pizzas are the fastest growing crust type in the total U.S. Grocery category. Following that trend, the Marshall, Minn.-based company added Red Baron Thin Crust pizza to its portfolio in the last year. Made with a proprietary formula, the pizza delivers “fresh-baked” taste “combined with differentiated flavor and topping profiles.”
The Red Baron Thin Crust pizza comes in six robustly-flavored varieties, including Ultimate Pepperoni, Five Cheese, Italian Sausage & Pepperoni, Meat Trio, Supreme, and Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil.
Likewise, Kraft Foods’ California Pizza Kitchen Crispy Thin Crust line offers consumers another option for attaining a clean bill of health, with three restaurant-inspired, Neapolitan-influenced varieties.
Each premium pizza features a crispy, crunchy crust; unique toppings such as spinach in garlic and olive oil, spicy ham, and salami; and a flavorful blend of real Italian cheeses such as Fontina and Romano. Varieties include White Pizza, Margherita and Sicilian Recipe. Available nationwide, the pizzas retail for $5.19.  
CPR for Health
While it can take a bit of selective reasoning to promote pizza as the most important part of a balanced diet, pizza manufacturers are rolling out their CPRs (crusty pies at the ready) infused with whole grains that can keep the doctor away, while appealing to both full-fat eaters and health-minded consumers.
Freschetta Wheat Crust [pizza] is a perfect example,” Jansen says. “It’s the first nationally branded frozen pizza with a whole wheat crust.”
The new pizza is touted as having all the taste and flavor of a traditional pie, but with a more healthy crust alternative.
“Freschetta uses proprietary European technology to give each crust irregularities similar to the hand-tossed crusts of restaurant style pizzas,” Jansen says.
Minneapolis-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands, a division of The Schwan Food Co., is the largest global producer of frozen pizza under the Tony’s, Red Baron and Freschetta brands. The company started distributing its wheat pizza on a national basis in February due to its resounding launch success and relevancy in terms of consumer demand for more healthful product offerings. Consumers can look forward to bringing home their own delicious cheese, supreme and pepperoni whole wheat varieties.
Kraft also is helping to steer medically minded consumers toward the freezer case with the introduction of its new DiGiorno Harvest Wheat Crust Pizza, made with whole grains. Featuring the brand’s signature Rising Crust, along with four Thin Crispy Crust varieties — including Pepperoni, Four Cheese, Roasted Vegetable and Supreme — DiGiorno Harvest Wheat Crust pizzas have 25% less fat than regular frozen pizza, pack in 8 gm. of whole grains per serving, contain no trans fat, and are a good source of fiber.
“We’re continually developing new flavors and products to satisfy pizza lovers,” notes Katie Williams, brand director for DiGiorno. “Increasingly, consumers want options that deliver the perfect combination of great taste, nutrition and convenience, which is no easy balancing act. So, we worked hard to hit all those buttons with DiGiorno Harvest Wheat Crust Pizza.”
In addition, the Glenview, Ill.-based company removed a lot of the guesswork for consumers perusing the frost-filled freezer shelves with its green Sensible Solution flag, which is displayed on each box. The flag tells consumers at first glance that they’re looking at a “better-for-you option,” the company notes. Consumers can find the pizza on retail freezer shelves nationwide, at a retail price of $5.99.
Pizza, Stat!
Americans toil away, day in and day out, navigating through the hallways of a seemingly never-ending rat-race. Our workdays are spent crammed into shoebox-sized cubicles, with nary a chance to savor anything more than a soggy grossloaf sandwich and a sad-looking side of extruded twirls.
Fortunately for us, pizza manufacturers have their tongue-defibrillators in hand, ready to shock our palates and shoot us with 300 CC’s of pizza, stat!
Their long-term prescription — microwaveable premium pizza — is inciting mass pizza pandemonium as consumers clamor to get their hands on the cheesy remedy.
“Consumers continue to demand convenient and innovative pizza options with a wide variety of flavors that taste great,” Jansen says. “Since innovation is a key driver to growth in the frozen pizza category, Schwan has worked hard to be a leader in developing new products that meet consumer demand.”
Schwan recently launched a Red Baron Classic Microwaveable Pizza made with quality ingredients such as real dairy cheese, premium meats and fresh toppings.
“The Red Baron pizza’s single-serve, microwaveable format offers a perfect solution for time-starved consumers,” Jansen says. “The product cooks in just three minutes and 30 seconds. Microwaveable pizza is now a $241 million business and is continuing to gain share.”
A part of Nestlé USA, Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine line also is taking a slice of the profits with its microwaveable pizza options targeting time-crunched, waistline-watching consumers who expect a lot of taste in just a little bit of time. Choices include traditional or new deep dish varieties in a diverse range of flavors, such as Four Cheese, Roasted Vegetable, Three Meat, Spinach & Mushroom, Pepperoni, Margherita and Deluxe. All are available nationwide at a retail price of $3.66.
Kraft keeps its pizza portfolio fresh with new introductions like its DiGiorno Rising Crust Microwaveable pizza. Touted as the first and only pizza that rises and “bakes” to a golden brown in just five minutes in the microwave, the pizza is available in four varieties: Four Cheese, Pepperoni, Supreme and Three Meat. They are available nationwide at a retail price of $3.49.
Face it, we love pizza. Whether it’s baked or nuked, thick or thin, pizza is just what the doctor ordered. Fortunately for us, manufacturers are making sure we keep on enjoying our piping hot pies piled high with premium ingredients by making our options healthier at the same time. After all, pizza should be like germs, always within arm’s reach. No, really, in a good way. SF&WB
Dough Savers
Added-value pizzas have proven to be another proverbial band-aid for consumers seeking more for their money.
Bernatello’s Pizza, Inc. introduced an Italian-Style Classic Pan Style pizza, which, according to the Maple Lake, Minn.-based company, offers “premium pizzeria taste at an exceptional price.” The hefty 21- to 24-oz. pizza is available in six varieties — 4 Cheese, Pepperoni, Sausage & Pepperoni, Supreme, 3 Meat and Deluxe — and retails for $3.99-$4.99.
Meanwhile, Schwan launched the new Big Baron pizza — available in Pepperoni and 4 Cheese — featuring the same crust and quality toppings found on its regular pies, but 50% bigger than its Red Baron Classic pizzas.
“It’s bigger than ever before, providing consumers with more of what they love, and making entertaining easier,” says Mark Jansen, vice president of product strategy for Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, Inc. “The Red Baron brand continues to grow faster than the category.”
Are You Red-Dy or Not?
A simple, thin-crust pizza topped with rich, red tomato sauce, olive oil and a touch of mozzarella cheese could help protect you against cancer.
A study out of Milan, Italy, claims that eating pizza regularly can reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer by 59%, colon cancer by 26%, and mouth cancer by 34%. Mama mia! 
The secret could be in your pizza’s tomato sauce. Lycopene, an antioxidant chemical naturally found in tomatoes, is thought to offer some level of cancer protection. But before you rush to put your closest pizza parlor on speed dial, don’t forget that pizza also can be high in saturated fat, salt and sodium. In contrast to most Italian pizzas — which often are homemade main courses — commercial, fast-food American versions are loaded with extra fat in the form of thick crusts, double meat and extra cheese.
Italian pizzas have less than 50% crust, and the rest is made up of 20% tomato sauce, 20% mozzarella cheese and 4% olive oil. While there’s no harm in trying out an Italian pizza diet for yourself, you might need to move to Milan or Tuscany to get the same results, since researchers noted that lifestyle habits could have a lot to do with it.
Ah, well, when in Rome …
Crusty Cure
Foodservice operators are introducing new, interesting pizza varieties to consumers in the form of unexpectedly topped and innovative pizzas.
Pizza Hut launched its Cheesy Bites pizza in February, which features 28 pullable, poppable, cheese-filled bites all around its circumference. Wrapped in dough and lightly seasoned on the outside with garlic-seasoned butter before being baked to a golden brown, the bites take the place of a traditional crust edge.
Papa John’s is satisfying America’s sweet tooth with its new Papa’s Sweetreats (pictured at left), personal dessert pizzas for those post-pizza dessert cravings. The sweet pies are baked on a 6-in. personal sized pan crust, using a unique, sweet dough, and are available in Very Berry, Apple Twist and Cinna Swirl, each laced with light icing.  
Denver, Colo.-based Spicy Pickle, a chain of fast-casual restaurants, recently introduced Pizzetti Neapolitan Thin Crust pizzas to its customers. Featuring an impressive array of global ingredients, such as Capicola ham, smoked mozzarella cheese, arrugula and Kalamata olives, in addition to more traditional pizza toppings, the new 11-in. Pizzetti is sure to challenge even the most adventurous appetites with ten different made-to-order, ready-to-eat varieties, such as the Athena, which is topped with artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes, feta, mozzarella and basil pesto; the Parma, with Prosciutto ham, capers, mozzarella and tomato sauce; and the Sonoma, brimming with roasted chicken, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh rosemary, mozzarella and tomato sauce.