LAS VEGAS -- Considering whether to add take and bake pizza to your menu? Better decide fast, says Dave Ostrander, before someone else beats you to it.
"I believe the marketing Law of Firsts," said Ostrander, a former pizzeria operator turned industry consultant. "That says this: People tend to remember who was the first to do something, but they rarely remember who was second."
In his seminar, "Take n' Bake -- The Mega Trend: Is It Right for You?" given during the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas on Feb. 11, Ostrander cited the eastward advance of Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza as certain indicator that take and bake is the most important trend in the industry.
"You who are east of the Mississippi have got about a year or two to be first by offering take and bake in your area," Ostrander said. "But after that, they're coming, and they're going to slam the door on you."
Ostrander praised Papa Murphy's streamlined operations, and pointed out the virtues of a take-and-bake operation: no ovens, no hoods, no fire-suppression system, reduced utilities, and no burned products. The 700-store, Vancouver, Wash., chain is one of the pizza industry's fastest growers, he said, partly because the concept is simple.
Importantly, he added, take and bake is also simple to execute as a menu addition in an existing pizza operation.
"What I'm talking about is creating a new market, not cannibalizing sales," said Ostrander. "If your company is in the East, you would be marketing a concept that people (in the West) already like."
According to Andy Rucker, a seminar attendee and product manager for Pactive Corp., a manufacturer of disposable take-and-bake pizza pans, about 10 percent of the "entire $30 billion fresh pizza market is take and bake." George Papaloukas, president of Villages Pizza in Victoria, British Columbia, said he wants a slice of that business, and came to the seminar to learn more about implementing it in his 11-store chain.
"It could be a way for us to add to existing sales," said Papaloukas. "I want to see if it would work for us, and if it does, I'd like to roll it out some time in the next six months."
Ostrander urged operators not to overlook the emotional appeal of the product. Though progressively fewer meals are cooked at home, people still yearn to have control over the preparation of those meals. Baking a pizza in their oven, he believes, provides a sense of that.
To prove his point, Ostrander told the failure-cum-success story of Duncan Hines cake mix. When the product was introduced a half century ago, all home cooks had to do was add water, blend and bake. But when the product sold poorly, Duncan Hines pulled it from the shelves and reengineered the recipes so customers would have to add a fresh egg, oil and water.
"It was like they felt they were adding some secret ingredient, and all they were doing was cracking an egg," said Ostrander. "And as we all know, the rest is history."
When some audience members raised concerns about what would happen of customers didn't bake their pizzas properly, Ostrander said operators need to educate them proactively. Adding to his point was an unidentified Papa Murphy's franchisee, who said her counter workers are trained to ask every customer if "this the first time you've had Papa Murphy's pizza?" If the customer answers yes, the staffer gives a brief overview of baking procedures and then points out the location on the package where baking instructions are outlined.
Tim Huff, manager of bakery flour and technical services for General Mills, said that in addition to that "education" operators should include a caveat that a take-and-bake pizza might not be as good as the one baked in a commercial oven.
"That product is going to be too different from the ones those customers have eaten at your shop for years," said Huff. "Just the fact that it could sit in the car for a period of time -- and that's like putting it in a proofing box -- is a concern."
Ostrander said that operators could remedy that situation by supplying inexpensive insulated vinyl bags.
"That will help keep the pizza cool while they're driving around finishing the shopping, it costs about $2, and you can either give them away or sell them cheap," said Ostrander. "This is really about customer education. We need to help them understand that this pizza is a live organism, and that that yeast can cause that dough to blow. Teach them they need to make picking up that pizza their last stop before they go home."
Ostrander suggested that a take-and-bake operation could be stocked with its food products supplied by production staff and equipment at an existing store. This sort-of mini-commissary arrangement allows an operator to choose a site requiring minimal square footage and almost no equipment other than refrigeration.
"A take and bake operation like that can save you almost $24,000 in equipment cost," said Ostrander. "Just think of what you could do with a 15' x 20' spot inside a Blockbuster location."
In the end, Ostrander stressed, take and bake will grow, whether via Papa Murphy's concept, or operator by operator. Customers want choice, he added, and take and bake is a simple and profitable way of presenting them a new option.
"I've been in the pizza business since I was 17, and I can tell you, what's happening with this is phenomenal," said Ostrander, whose career spans more than three decades. "The danger isn't in trying this, it's in waiting to be the last to adapt to such a change in the marketplace."