With the birth of a new pizza restaurant in Denver, called Pizzeria Locale, the pizza industry is quickly embracing a basic food science principle — Make It Thinner! Cook It Faster! And Fatten Profits!
I have learned throughout my career that the food industry is based on a few very simple principles — like the Law of Gravity. Once you understand the basic food science principles, then you can build an entire business or industry around that principle or Law of Food Science. Unfortunately it takes mere mortals years and decades to figure out the obvious.
Pizzeria Locale allows patrons standing in line to choose from toppings like fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and other fresh (locally grown?) ingredients while watching their food being made. It is then baked in a super hot 1,000ºF for 2 minutes! But the real food science principle is food will cook faster when it is thinner or less dense. In other words, Make It Thinner and Cook It Faster!
But what is the innovation behind this concept? The innovation is in the oven — not the ingredients or the theater of assembling the pizza before your eyes. Someone had to develop an innovative oven that could cook multiple pizzas in 2 minutes at a predetermined flow-through rate. In other words, the oven cannot be the rate limiting factor as in the Theory of Constraints.
Make it thin!
Originally, the pizza industry marketed their products as Extra Large, Large, Medium, and Small. Then this concept evolved to "personal" size pizza to make you feel special, and it required less cook time. In other words, the personal pizza allowed restaurants to market lunch daypart pizzas that could be cooked in time to get you back to the office by 1 p.m. So the logical next step was to make thinner pizzas that cook faster which can be placed on appetizer menus like fast casual chain Seasons 52 did.
Cook it faster!
In summary, cooking a pizza faster enabled marketers to promote their pizzas to new customer dayparts and customers with less time on their hands. Even the media seems to be enamored with the thin pizza phenomena — calling it the "Chipotle Formula" as stated by Sarah Nassauer in the December 18, 2014, Wall Street Journal. But the concept food prepared before your eyes did not originate with Chipotle. The visual assembly of food in pizza restaurants has been around for decades, even though it may have not been directly in front of you. By the way, Boston Market did this with rotisserie chicken decades ago!
In principle, making the pizza thinner and cooking it faster should fatten profits, if the chains cap the cost of expensive hard-to-find ingredients. But already I see a cut back in mozzarella cheese on these Neapolitan-style thin crust pizzas. A true pizza purist may yet shout: Where's the Cheese?
The Next Pizza Concept Evolution (not innovation)
I am guessing that the next evolutionary concept will be "Snack Pizzas" that mimic the $2 desserts at Season 52. They will cook fast and offer the customer smorgasbord of products to pick from.
More information is now available on the 2014 Food Innovation Workshops titled: "THE TWELVE (12) PRINCIPLES PILARS OF FOOD INNOVATION: How to Contribute New Product Innovation Value to Your Company!"
The course will be offered across the U.S. and in the Philippines/SE Asia. The course is based in two Harvard Business Press books that have been applied to the food industry. To pre-register or to volunteer your company as a host site, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-471-1443. The first workshops will be held in San Diego (March), and Chicago (May).
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.