A new paper tray designed for use in take-and-bake pizza operations reflects a growing interest in the hottest segment of the pizza industry.
In March, Neenah, Wis.-based Menasha Packaging Co. introduced a pressed, corrugated baking tray that is both "ovenable" and useable as a disposable serving tray.
The tray is the latest of its kind to enter what is yet a wide-open market for such products. The only significant take-and-bake tray player is Lake Forest, Ill.-based Pactiv Corporation, which manufactures coated Pressware paper trays used by Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza, the nation's largest take-and-bake chain. Nearly all other take-and-bake operators use silicon-coated parchment paper and corrugated pizza circles to support their pies.
Scott Sanders, Menasha's director of foodservice packaging, said the tray is too new to have found a foothold in the chain and independent take-and-bake markets, but that several grocers who sell take-and-bake pizzas already are using it.
"Our emphasis has been on supermarket chains, because we're already there with our bakery products," Sanders said. "But we believe there are real opportunities outside of that in pizza."
Pactive's and Menasha's products share some similarities: both are dual use and disposable.
But as B.G. Wharton, market development manger for Pactiv, points out, the likenesses largely end there. Pactiv's product is lightly coated with a non-stick, surface, and it's more flexible than Menasha's tray. The Menasha tray, according to Sanders, is heavier as well.
"That may offer better rigidity, but I wonder if the corrugated paper will bake as well," said Wharton, adding that he'd not tested the product himself. "One of the advantages to our product is browning. The coating helps that."
Sanders agreed that browning was a key issue with the corrugated product, but one easily addressed by allowing the pizza to warm to room temperature before baking. "But if you don't thaw to 75 degrees, you're not going to get the browning you want."
Proponents of baking paper say it its far better for browning because of its minimal thickness, but both Wharton and Sanders point to its inherent handling difficulties. Sliding a raw pizza off a cardboard circle and onto a hot oven rack is a little tricky, Wharton said; and sliding that off the rack and back onto the circle is an even more delicate process.
"Using a tray is just convenient," Wharton said. "Ours has a flange around the tray, which leaves a lot less chance you'll burn your fingers.
"You cut the pizza on there, too, serve it and throw it away. It doesn't get much easier."
Both manufacturers also claimed that since their trays are heated along with the pizza, it stays warmer after it's out of the oven.
Cost of goods
While volume purchases influence the cost of paper trays and coated paper dramatically, paper trays are on average 30 cents higher per piece than coated paper and cardboard. That gap, some say, is negligible compared to what the customer gets with a tray.
Pizza consultant Dave Ostrander, who recommends Pactiv trays, believes the tray makes a better visual impression.
"It looks professional and it supports the pizza well," said Ostrander, during take and bake pizza seminar last fall. "I'm not saying the other way looks bad, but it doesn't look half as good as if it were on a tray."
Trays add some marketing benefit, too, Wharton said. Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy's embosses its name on its trays. And Sanders said the fibers in Menasha's corrugated tray are coated so they can accept printing. "That's one of the distinct advantages of using paper instead of plastic or foil."
Both Sanders and Wharton say their products are proof their companies envision a big future for take-and-bake pizza. Wharton believes a major chain may roll out a take-and-bake product within a year or two, and said independents are adding it to their menus all the time. The availability of trays, he said, enables any operator to make the addition quickly.
"The advantages of having take-and-bake in any operation are obvious," Wharton said. "It takes the heat off the ovens on busy weekends, for one. And you can tell the guy who calls that he can have it in an hour baked, or delivered right now ready to bake. If all you've got to do is take your pizza and put it on a tray, you're ready to go."