Where can you find the latest pizza innovation trends – and what are they? Is it merely "back-to-basics' – or more than that? And what can be done to make these innovation trends mainstream?
I was intrigued by a recent article posted on FoxNews.com titled "Top 10 Pizza Restaurants in the U.S." Since the "mainstream pizza QSR chains" offer little new product innovation, I thought I might learn some common innovation trends from the Top 10 independent pizzerias.
As I have stated in previous blogs, true food innovation usually originates from small independent restaurants or food truck entrepreneurs. Innovation in large corporations (such as Apple) can only be found when a company transforms its culture to incorporate innovation principles and processes – and like Apple, you see the results in significant sales and profit growth.
I recently visited a large QSR and fast casual foodservice equipment distribution company and was surprised to see what the management called "pizza oven innovation." Needless to say, it represented a watered down technology version of authentic pizza ovens labeled Acunto Ovens or Forno Bravo ovens. It was quite obvious, and disappointing, to see well-known food chains fit authentic pizza oven characteristics and functionality into watered down technology ovens.
Upon reviewing the Top 10 pizza restaurants, I noted the following five key innovation trends as evidenced by leading independent pizza restaurants:
Artisan hand-made preparation process and cooking
The most prominent pizza innovation trend is Artisan hand-made preparation processes and cooking techniques. The only significant preparation trend that mainstream pizza chains use is tossing the pizza dough in the air and spinning it. Wow, that will cause the consumers to reach for their phone and order a pizza!
However, true artisan preparation begins with mixing traditional Italian pizza flour (and other secret "proprietary" ingredients) with water, mixing the dough to the right consistency, proofing and cutting the dough into individually sized balls that are subsequently kneaded into the flat crust configuration.
Keste Pizza and Vino in New York City is also the U.S. home for APN or the Association Pizza Iuoli Napoletani that certifies pizza makers in the traditions of Neapolitan pizza, preserves the Neapolitan pizza tradition and promotes the art of pizza making. The organization also certifies professional pizza makers in the tradition of Neapolitan Pizza.
Ancient grains or native wheat flours
San Felice Italian flour is the pizza flour of choice for those with discriminating taste buds, and it can be easily imported into the U.S. This follows another trend of bringing the "locally grown" phenomena from Italy – the country of origins.
The most authentic wood ovens hand crafted in Italy are the Acunto Ovens – especially designed for Neapolitan pizza. When it comes to making Neapolitan pizza, the first and some say the most important aspect you should consider is the maximum cooking temperature of the oven. Without an oven that is able to reach 900 degrees, you will not be able to create the crust texture that you expect for a Neapolitan pizza. This extremely high temperature is mandatory to get a slightly charred, pliable crust associated with true pizza. Another well know global brand is Forno Bravo Ovens. All-in-all, the ultimate choice of an oven, whether it be wood or gas fired, is determined by the end user.
All-natural, organic, heirloom ingredients
Great Lake Pizza, in Chicago, leads the way with a 100-percent organic menu with sustainable menu ingredients. All meat and dairy products used are derived from pastured/humanely-raised animals on family-owned farms. Truly Organic Pizza is also ready to open its second location in Florida. I also predict that "heirloom" ingredients will soon appear more commonly on upscale pizza crusts.
Most innovative and authentic menu
My choice for the most innovative and authentic menu is Dolce Vita Pizzaria & Enoteca (Houston). It is known for its authentic Italian Taleggio cheese that may be the oldest soft cheeses – that has a strong aroma, but its flavor is comparatively mild with an unusual fruity tang. In addition to the wide variety of vegetables, it also provides the opportunity to top off your pizza with an egg – another food trend in the hamburger industry.
In follow-up, Food Technical Consulting (www.foodbevbiz.com) has scheduled a one-day industry workshop in Denver on "Innovative Thought Leadership in New Product Development Nov. 6. Contact me at email@example.com or 303-471-1443. A course manual will be available for sale to international small business operators who cannot attend.
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.