Just look around, America has gotten heavier right in front of our eyes. It is well researched and accepted that obesity in America is a, pardon the pun, huge problem. Whether your point of view about obesity's impact is lifestyle, healthcare cost or image, our society cannot afford a severely overweight population. Even the Army now struggles to find enough fit recruits.
Many people have weighed in on the causes and more importantly, the solutions. We in the pizza industry have a finger pointed our way by certain people in media and healthcare, so it matters. The first lady has brought focus to the issue and rightly touts the idea of fresh fruits and vegetables along with less fatty meats and sugar intake. As well-intended as these ideas are, there is nothing new about asking people to eat better. For decades, people have heard this message and we have only gained weight. It is a bit like "just say NO to drugs," — sounds good but rarely works with at-risk people.
On the upper-income side, well-intended elite writers like Michael Pollen tout GMO free, organics and other food as medicine solutions. People that make $150,000 annually have the luxury of choice and access. Many middle-income families do not have the option to spend $1,000 a month at Whole Foods or similar places. For low-income people without access to fresh foods, not all the positive messaging in the world can supply good foods in so-called food deserts, areas underserved by full-service grocers.
How can the pizza industry help?
Research on obesity led me to an interesting statistic: most overweight people can begin to lose weight by cutting just 300 calories per day.
In Europe, a commission has set a goal to make pizza healthier. A new project called PLEASURE will develop new food processing methods that reduce sugar, salt and fat in prepared foods. New technologies will work at the ingredient cell level to improve taste. In addition, high pressure will disperse the salt and fat in products so that lower quantities will deliver the same flavor. Early research suggests this new method will reduce salt and fat by 30 percent, making pizza healthier without affecting the flavor.
If you remember the failure of McDonald's "healthy" burger, the McLean, consumers rejected the product because they were told it was "good for them." This set an expectation of poor flavor and surveys determined that people did not like the taste. American grocery shelves are littered with failed low-fat and fat-free products. We want high-flavored foods and pizza delivers.
Three hundred calories, that's all. There are options and creative people can find solutions. Pizza operators can work to reduce the calories in our products so that consumers will continue to visit our restaurants and know that pizza remains a good, healthy choice in their diets.
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.