As pizza continues to play a dominate role in the North American diet, pizza producers are relying on equipment to help them make fresher, more attractive pizzas that stand out in a freezer case of competition.
| Quantum’s latest slicer features two heads per lane and can run 80 12-in. pizzas per minute per lane. |
In March, officials from the National Frozen Pizza Institute reported a 60 percent increase in supermarket frozen pizza sales in the past five years, with 2006 sales reaching $3.3 billion. This is no surprise, considering Pizzaware.com reports 93 percent of Americans eat one pizza per month, and each person in the U.S. consumes an average of 46 slices (23 pounds) of pizza per year, with children, ages three to 11, requesting pizza above all other foods for lunch and dinner.
Frozen pizza production has grown so much in the last six years that Home Run Inn Pizza, Woodridge, Ill., is expanding its plant to include a high-speed line to triple production, says Mark Carlson, Home Run Inn’s operation director, frozen food production. He adds, “Chicago is the largest frozen pizza market in the world.”
With pizza a continuing favorite in homes across the country, pizza and pizza equipment manufacturers alike agree consumers are becoming more food-wise than ever before and are taking more interest in what they eat, including pizza.
Consequently, current industry trends are calling for more healthful and attractive homemade-style pizzas, high-end pizzas, a larger variety of crusts, and pizzas parents feel good feeding to their children. To make their products stand out in crowded freezer cases, manufacturers are creating pizzas with exotic garnishes and new crust shapes, including oval, square and rectangle. Pizza production solutions are evolving to accommodate the latest consumer demands, from freshly cut sausage to new types of crust.
“What has changed most is the clients’ level of sophistication. They are now expecting and demanding a true Italian-style pizza. Due to traveling, they are becoming more demanding of the foods they eat. They are learning what Italian pizza is, “ says John Thess, general manager of Mugnaini, Watsonville, Calif.
Tim Kent, professional engineer and marketing director, Raque Food Systems, Louisville, Ky., says the current trend is making pizza a more healthful food, with light crust and fewer toppings. A decade ago, pizzas contained so many toppings and so much cheese consumers couldn’t see the sauce, he adds.
“It ruins the nutritional value of pizza. When you think about it, the food pyramid is right on top of the pizza–you have cheese, veggies; but once you start loading on toppings an inch thick, and extra cheese, you don’t have the food pyramid anymore. You have a fat pyramid,” Kent says. This trend is quite a change from the status quo 30 years ago, when manufacturers were more concerned with producing frozen pizzas at the lowest possible cost than with the aesthetic appearance of the product, he adds.
Pizza systems to the rescue
As pizza consumers grow in sophistication, pizza production equipment must enable manufacturers to stay in step with current trends. For example, today’s machines produce pizzas that look handmade, so consumers don’t have to rearrange toppings to make the pizza look presentable, Kent says.
Crusts with raised edges and new crust shapes are possible because equipment manufacturers are now using hot-press technology instead of the older sheeting method, says Larry Serafin, marketing manager, AM Manufacturing, Dolton, Ill.
Rather than an influx of new technology, most pizza equipment manufacturers are building on existing technology to find ways to increase production speeds and improve consistency. When upgrading lines, some pizza manufacturers are turning to custom-made machines to fit existing systems, thus remaining adaptable in the ever-changing market.
For smaller companies, it can be cost-effective to purchase individual machines to make up a line, whereas bigger companies might benefit more from investing in one whole pizza system, says Jimmy Jackson, plant director, Spartan Foods of America, Spartanburg, S.C. Whether systems are composed of equipment from various companies, a line of machines from one company, or a whole system unto itself, the same advancements hold true.
Jim Machura, sales manager, Quantum Topping Systems, Frankfort, Ill., notes that the advancements of Programmable Logical Controllers (PLCs), sensors and computer technology help manufacturers increase production and lower costs. He adds that more pizza systems are employing servomotors in place of hydraulics. Servo technology is “a very precise way of controlling movement and position,” he says.
Raque Food Systems incorporates PLCs, microprocessor-based devices that manage machinery in an assembly line by reacting to programed sensory inputs. The first waterfall pizza systems used conveyors powered by separate motors, and toppings were “thrown off the end of the belt at an even rate and just fell over the tops of the pizza shells,” says Kent. He adds that a PLC can help manage the variations between toppings by using stored parameters. Operator can press a button to set all the motors to their correct speed.
“By a flip of a switch, manufacturers may update their system so a consistent amount of toppings will land on each pizza correctly and therefore ensure a more attractive final product,” Kent says. He adds that modern PLCs are more robust and the motors are less expensive than earlier models, and the systems can be controlled by a touch screen.
Equipment originally developed in other industries also is proving beneficial for pizza manufacturers. Home Run Inn Pizza, for example, uses a cartoning system that originated in the pharmaceutical industry, and now packs 12 individual pizzas to a case, at a rate of 115 to 120 pizzas per minute, Carlson says.
Pizza equipment also is incorporating stainless-steel, wash-down motors and gear boxes that more suppliers are making available to the food service industry, Quantum’s Machura says. Pizza system technology has evolved from a sanitation standpoint as well, making machines easier to clean and maintain, he adds. One reason for the new cleaning advancements is that production runs are increasing, creating a need for alternate cleaning and maintenance solutions.
“[Manufacturers] want systems that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It used to be [machines would] run for a couple of shifts, and then be down for a shift. Now, they run for a couple of weeks straight,” says Eric Riggle, vice president of Rademaker, Colemborg, the Netherlands. The easy-to-clean machines can run longer without interruption, he adds. Sanitation is improving because plant operators are more cognizant of the fact that they must maintain and clean machines on a regular basis, Serafin says.
Overall, equipment and pizza manufacturers agree the biggest changes in pizza system technology over the past five years has been increased speed and efficiency, and larger through-puts. Still, some equipment manufacturers caution against running machines at speeds above the recommended limit because imperfections can occur when machines run too quickly.
Finding equipment solutions
Even with current advancements, pizza systems have room for improvement. Some operation directors say pizza manufacturers who avoid sharing secrets, make it difficult to get the word out to equipment designers as to what is working best. Once companies get feedback from consumers, they can tell designers what they need technology-wise to improve the product. Manufacturers can design anything, Carlson says, it’s just a matter of communicating what works best. When customers said cleaning vital parts of machines was difficult because the guts of the machines sat in stainless-steel boxes, engineers at AM Manufacturing revised models. The guts now sit in open frames without stainless-steel guarding, for easy cleaning, Serafin says.
When listening to equipment success stories, keep in mind that if a machine works for one company it does not mean it will work for everyone. “Each company has different needs,” Carlson says, “We bought a dough proofing unit, but because our dough has a higher oil content, it clogged the machine.” He adds that the machine had to be scrapped within six months and replaced with a unit that worked better for Home Run Inn’s production process.
The future of pizza production
As pizza production equipment evolves, the demand for efficiency will increase, with an emphasis on decreased labor, improved cleaning technology, and more attractive pizzas.
Randy Medina, sales manager of Pizzamatic Corp., South Holland, Ill., says tomorrow’s technology will ensure “consistency, accurate portions, controlled costs, and machines that are more user-friendly and that further increase production.”
When it comes to pizza itself, manufacturers say the healthful trend will continue with a push toward the freshness, flavor and appearance of pizzeria-style pizzas.
Kent says future technology will try to beat delivered pizza flavor, making Digiorno’s marketing campaign, “It’s not delivery, it’s Digiorno,” a reality for frozen pizza manufacturers. “The only appeal of delivery over frozen pizza [will be] that it is delivered,” Kent says.
“The one thing I haven’t seen yet is shelf-stable, refrigerated pizzas sold in a fashion to ensure they are really fresh. Frozen pizza looses some of its nutrition on being frozen. The next [step] is using shelf-stable techniques, such as gassing products in sealing so no air can enter and [compromise freshness], and keeping them refrigerated,” Kent adds. This technology exists, he says, and may be used for pizzas, but tranportation time may “eat” much of the product’s shelf life.
Carlson agrees the market goal is a fresher pizza. He says the industry is already moving in this direction with assembly lines that are less harsh on dough. Dough pressing occurs in less time, and thus does not kill the yeast, creating a fresher product. He also sees the trend continuing toward less trans fats, and more precooked and natural ingredients, such as raw sausage, which requires more advanced equipment.
Machura says the next step for equipment is portion-controlled products, pizza-weighing technology and higher production speeds. “We’re always chasing portion control. There will be a tighter reign on ingredients. Weighing each pizza is probably not that far off. Then tightening up the allowable variation in weight to get as close to the proper weight as [possible],” Machura says.
One certainty is consumer demand will increase the need for variety in pizza. Pizza plants must stay versatile, from packaging to crust and topping capabilities, Jackson says. “You can’t get locked into producing just one type or one kind [of pizza],” Jackson adds. New take-and-bake products, with pizza components in separate packs for at-home assembly, is one example of how pizza makers are staying versatile from a packaging standpoint, he adds.
Equipment and pizza manufacturers continue to embrace versatility, creating pizzas that stand out in a freezer case. “We’ve come a long way from cardboard-type box pizzas,” Riggle says.