Ja, That’s Italian!

By Dan Malovany

HASA of Germany produces premium-quality frozen pizzas on one of Europe’s most modern lines, yet it bakes the old-fashioned way — in a stone hearth oven.

For those in the know, the secret is in the dough. That’s what German consumers told HASA GmbH months before it began full-scale production of frozen pizzas in its 235,000-sq.-ft. plant just outside of Berlin.
“Consumers know very well what they expect from their pizzas,” notes Holger Pitsch, managing director of the Burg-Ost, Germany-based company that he founded with Andreas Czayka in July 2005.
“For Germans,” he adds, “the dough quality is the No. 1 criteria.”
German consumers don’t like wimpy New York-style crusts. But they don’t prefer gut-busting Chicago-style deep-dish pies, either. Rather, Pitsch explains, they want their crusts crispy on the outside and fluffy in the inside.
In other words, they like them made in the traditional Italian style, a form of crust that’s the platform for more than 70% of the 700 million frozen pizzas purchased in Germany on an annual basis.
“The perfect pizza should be crispy, thin and easy to cut,” Pitsch says. “It should smell like fresh bread. It should support the toppings. Consumers also look at the visual appearance. They want their pizzas to look as handmade as possible.”
Although HASA is less than two years old and its plant only began making pizzas in January 2006, the medium-sized company has quickly established itself as one of the fastest-growing producers of private label pizzas in Germany and even throughout parts of Europe.
Premium Private Label
For the German market, HASA makes five varieties of pizzas that are sold under the established Käfer private label brand, which has been synonymous with super-premium quality products since the 1930s.
In Germany, the United Kingdom and an increasing number of countries throughout Europe, HASA contract manufactures products sold under store brands, private label brands and a pool of names, such as Italissimo, that it owns and licenses out to its customers, including a large retailer in Chile.
Although Käfer products have slightly more toppings and are positioned as more premium than the Italissimo brand, both lines have similar formulizations. In its dough, HASA only uses natural ingredients such as flour, water, yeast, salt, canola and olive oil. That’s because health and wellness are huge trends in Europe, just as they are in North America. In addition, the company uses a 24-hour liquid sponge that adds a yeasty aromatic flavor to the freshly baked-off products.
“We don’t need to add improver, and you get an airy structure to the dough [with the liquid sponge],” says Sja Delikhoun, HASA’s manager of R&D and international sales. “It also provides freshness and a longer shelf life, and it’s healthier, too.”
Additionally, the company only tops its pizzas with high-grade cheeses, choice meat and fresh vegetables. It also custom makes its own tomato sauce using 100% tomato puree and not from concentrate.
“We add only water and herbs, no starches,” Delikhoun notes. “We want to keep the fresh tomato paste.”
Like in the United States, the most popular varieties of frozen pizza in Germany are pepperoni and supreme. However, HASA produces other gourmet options, such as a Pizza Quattro Formaggi and Pizza Bolognese, the latter of which is topped with beef, pork, Edem cheese and red onions.
Seafood pizzas also are popular in Germany. Käfer’s Frutti di Mare pizza, for instance, features salmon, calamari and shrimp in a cream sauce, while another is topped with tuna.
Millions of Pizzas a Year
Because it’s a relative newcomer in a competitive market, HASA needed a point of differentiation from the start.
“Do you strive for maximum output or to make a better quality product?” Pitsch asks. “We chose to make a better quality product. We’re about quality and not quantity.”
Versatility is another one of the strengths of this private label pizza producer. The plant can produce rectangle pizzas, ciabatta loaves, handheld snacks and other novelty items. It also can make traditional round pizzas up to 30 cm. or about 12 in. in diameter. Unlike the major manufacturers who mass-produce pizzas at rates exceeding 200 pizzas a minute, HASA’s line creates about 100-130 a minute or 6,000-8,000 units an hour, depending on the product’s size. At those slower speeds, the line even can hand-top products if a customer is willing to pay for it, Delikhoun says.
In addition to its flexibility, the plant has the capacity to make between 40 and 50 million pizzas. Last year, the operation produced 12 million units. This year, the company expects to double its volume and add a second shift. However, HASA is a lean operation with 50 employees. Even with the start of two shifts, it still will employ only around 70 people, including top management. That’s because the bakery and topping departments are highly automated. Many of the line employees work in the packaging area, Pitsch notes.
Emphasis on Food Safety
Before entering the 53,800-sq.-ft. production area, line workers enter a “black zone” where they change and shower before heading to the “white” or sanitary zone where they put on a clean uniform and shoes. Employees must then walk through a system that analyzes air for overall sanitation and enter the plant only when the light turns green.
The air-conditioned plant is divided into multiple departments, each with their own temperature controls to maximize quality assurance. There are separately enclosed rooms for storing dry ingredients, holding chilled ingredients, making tomato paste and freezing up to 600 pallets of products.
Sanitation and food safety are paramount. In addition to having a hazardous analysis critical control standards system, the plant is certified as one of the top-rated facilities in Europe by the International Food Standard and the British Retail Consortium. The plant also received organic certification late last year.
“Organic is hot in Germany at this moment, and we have gained a national listing with an organic pizza with Calabrese salami, fresh rucola and Grana Padano Italian dried cheese for a retailer in Germany,” Delikhoun says.
Flour is stored in a 66,000-lb. silo. Many of the other ingredients come in 1,000-liter totes, 55-gallon drums or other minor storage system. The bakery actually begins production with an 800-gallon liquid sponge system where flour and water are mixed before traveling through a heat exchanger that drops the sponge down to 41°F and into holding tanks for 24 hours. That sponge is added to continuous mixing systems along with automatic doses of various minor and micro ingredients.
After mixing and aerating, the dough is pumped into the pizza line’s hopper. After relaxing on an overhead conveyor, the dough is gently made into a continuous sheet by passing through dual-roll reduction stations. The first sheeter reduces the fluffy 43-in. wide dough sheet from about 4- to about 2-in. thick. After passing through a cross roller, the 43-in. sheet passes through a second station that softly reduces the sheet to its desired thickness. The sheet is trimmed with the scrap automatically recycled.
“This [line] can produce a number of different styles of pizza,” Delikhoun says. “It’s a very flexible line.”
Because of the long fermentation process and gentle sheeting process, the individual pizza shells maintain their shape after guillotine cutting. Unlike with a hot or cold press, there is no shrinkage or bubbling. Additionally, the process maintains the products’ internal cell structure to create a fluffy interior and crisp exterior.
“There is no energy in the dough from overworking it,” Delikhoun adds.
Next, an augur feeds an air cylinder depositor that precisely puts dozens of tiny droplets of sauce on top of the unbaked crust without any waste or mess, Delikhoun says.
The pizzas bake for about 90 seconds in a 45-ft. tunnel oven with a 1.2-in. thick stone hearth made of granite from Dolmite in Italy that integral to creating the company’s restaurant-style, signature crust. After baking, the crusts enter a temperature-controlled cooling room that reduces their internal temperature from about 200°F to 100°F.
The pizzas then enter a 53-55°F topping room where three cylindrical applicators precisely deposit cheese, vegetables or meat onto the products.
“We work to keep the process simple and accurate so that there isn’t a lot of equipment to clean,” Pitsch says.
After traveling in a blast freezer, the pizzas are automatically aligned before shrink-wrapping and being put into cartons, which can contain anywhere from one to three pizzas per box.
All products are stored in a 600-pallet freezer for three days for testing before they are released for shipping. The finished products also have a nine-month shelf life from date of production.
At home, consumers then can bake the pizzas for 10-12 minutes at about 425°F. Depending on the variety, the 10- to 11-in. pizzas typically sell for about 2.69 and 2.99 euros each, which is considered on the high end of the price scale in this highly competitive, price-sensitive category.
Currently, the plant has ample room to add a second line in the production area. HASA has several options. It could add capacity, Pitsch says, or it eventually might install systems that produce a plethora of new products. HASA, for instance, is exploring rollout pizza kits and more healthy and wholesome items made with whole grain, low-fat cheese, vegetables or leaner meats.
No matter what the new products are, one thing is for certain: They will be positioned as premium alternatives to what’s already in the market. That’s because those like HASA who are in the know realize that going upscale brings in the dough. SF&WB
Editor’s note: Fritsch assisted our magazine in setting up this story with HASA. Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery would like to thank the folks at Fritsch and HASA for all their help. For more details about Fritsch and its pizza line, visit www.fritsch-usa.us. For additional information about HASA, go to www.hasa-burg.de. To learn about the latest pizza trends, check out www.snackandbakery.com.
For the Love of Pizza
For Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, HASA GmbH produces a product called Pizza Amore. The heart-shaped pie comes in a traditional margherita variety made with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. To promote the specialty pizza, HASA last year gave away candlelight dinners for two worth 100 euros each. The first 100 consumers who cut out and mailed in the postcard from the box received the prize.
How popular was it? During the initial promotion, HASA produced 150,000 of these loving pizzas for one retail customer alone.
And the Winner Is…
After developing its products, HASA conducted a blind taste of 80 consumers comparing its prototype products against pizzas made by Dr. Oetker and Wagner, which respectively own 38% and 32% shares of the 2 billion euro frozen pizza market in Germany. Participants in the study were broken down into two groups, one ages 18-25 and a second ages 37-55.
“We did it to validate what we were doing here and to justify an additional pizza plant in Germany,” says Holger Pitsch, managing director of HASA. “We wanted to find out if the quality is okay or do we have to make some changes to our equipment.”
According to Pitsch, 95% of the group members selected HASA’s pizza as the best. Prototypes of HASA’s products were produced in collaboration with Fritsch GmbH at the bakery equipment manufacturer’s pilot plant in Germany, Pitsch notes.