Pizza manufacturers turn to versatile production systems to help them create pizzas that offer authenticity and quality.
The basic elements of pizza have remained unchanged for years–crust, sauce, topping–but consumers’ increasingly sophisticated palates are pushing pizzamanufacturers to up the ante and look beyond the traditional.Authentic and quality are the latest buzzwords, and they refer to both ingredients and techniques. But while the methods may be a departure from the familiar, the equipment isn’t necessarily so.
“Some of the new advances have been around for a while, but they’re applying them now to the pizza industry,” explains Ken Hagedorn, vice president of sales and marketing for Naegele Inc. Bakery Systems, Alsip, Ill. “A lot of the technology used for creating pita bread is now being used for pizza, for example. A lot of people are addressing the crust and focusing on making a better one. It’s no longer a matter of just putting toppings on a shingle; now people are dedicating more to producing anartisan-type crust. But it’s not necessarily about using new equipment; it’s about taking existing technologies and applying them to this industry.”
Jim Machura, sales manager for Quantum Technical Services, Frankfort, Ill., agrees pizza producers are paying more attention to the crust, and he points out the myriad options they’re developing to lure consumers to the freezer case.
“Thin, die-cut crusts have been replaced by self-rising crusts, ciabatta breads, flat breads, and thin and crispy crusts,” he says, and adds that he’s seen a trend toward gourmet pizzas that incorporate premium toppings,including sun-dried tomato and goat cheese, as well asspecialty sauces like garlic butter, salad dressing andbarbeque. As the use of nontraditional sauces grows, Quantum has adjusted its sauce heads to accommodate new varieties.
“Large particulates in the sauce are becoming more common,” Machura explains. “We have new sauce head designs that allow thick sauces, sauces with large particlesof tomato and seasoning, as well as sauces thatrequire smaller portions, all to be applied in a consistentmanner.” He sees the shift toward premium pizzas as a move by retailers to poach sales from their delivery counterparts.
“The frozen pizza industry is going after the carry-out market,” he says. “We are seeing higher-quality frozen pizzas, and we have all seen ads comparing frozen pizza to carry-out. I think that consumers have come to expect higher-quality pizza, and they are willing to pay more for a product that delivers good value, convenience and quality.”
Hagedorn adds that he’s tracking a resurgence in stuffed crust, which has already been reflected in Naegele’s equipment sales.
“We’ve started to notice a lot of people exploring stuffed crust pizza again–we actually just sold a big line to one of the big retailers,” he says. “We’ve heard a lot of activity with stuffed crust.”
With the explosion in crust, sauce and topping options, bakeries are looking for machines that can handle anything thrown at them. “A lot of people are getting away from that dedicated line,” Hagedorn observes. “They want versatility.”
Machura agrees. “The days of running thin crust, sauce and cheese pizzas for two shifts are over.”
John McIsaac, vice president of strategic business development for Reiser Inc., Canton, Mass., says one of the most popular features among Reiser’s clients right now is recipe-driven changeover. The interest appears to be widespread; Machura also has noticed the increased desirability of preprogrammed recipe screens.
“Some customers may only run for a half-hour then change to a different SKU,” he explains. “Recipes stored as easy-to-understand alphanumeric names entered by the operator allow product changeovers at the touch of a button.”
McIsaac adds that bakers also are looking for “more accountability via checkweighing of dough portions. Bakers must eliminate giveaway and poor portioning.” It’s a trend Hagedorn attributes to the increased emphasis on the bottom line.
“People are looking for better weight control with topping lines,” he says. “With ingredient costs going up, people are being a little more careful with weight control, and checkweighing is becoming a big thing with pizza systems.”
For pizza manufacturers, the stakes are high. Pizza has remained a hot category in an otherwise tepid economy, and with pizza delivery companies slashing prices, quality has become the primary battleground.
“The manufacturers that produce the higher-quality pizzas are going to be highest in sales,” Hagedorn says, “and ultimately top in the category.”