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Despite the come-and-go nature of diet trends, it's hard to ignore the impact of low-carbohydrate foods on the restaurant industry. Even with pizza, where the traditional base is carb-central, many adroit operators have developed low-carb crusts to meet dieters' demands to bring them back into the fold.
Other operators have employed a lower-cost approach by adding a thin-crust menu option. Some are making thin crusts from existing dough recipes, while others are buying frozen, preformed or parbaked (i.e., dough baked only long enough to stop yeast activity). The simple reduction of dough mass equates to reduced carbs, and the pizza still tastes like a pizza.
Who wants it?
Since low-carb crusts — the custom-formulated ones — cost between 25 percent and 50 percent more than standard pizza doughs, operators must consider the potential return on such an investment before adding them to the menu. At the very least, said Liz Hertz, marketing manager for toppings manufacturer Burke Corp., operators should learn whether their customers really want such a product before bringing it in.
"Operators need to ask, 'Are they really looking for this?' " said Hertz. "Before you jump into something, bring in a case of low-carb crusts that you could top and bake. Then hand out small free samples. That would get some customer feedback, which would help you decide whether it's worth it."
Pizza Magia CEO Dan Holland said his company got a strong sales response to its low-carb pizza, but it quickly became clear that it wasn't for everyone.
"It's usually your white-collar areas, more upscale areas, that want it," said Holland, whose company is based in Louisville, Ky. "We've not seen a lot of participation in blue-collar areas. Those customers seem to be more interested in value."
If the need exists, Hertz suggests operators examine the thin-crust options. Not only will they help an operator meet current customer demands, when the low-carb trend fades — and many claim it is already beginning to — they're easily removed from the menu.
Lastly, in order to educate customers on low-carb pizza options, educate yourself first. Burke has made that easy, Hertz said, by developing a chart that shows in detail the carbohydrate content of all its toppings. (Remember, outside of a few vegetable toppings, virtually all others, including cheese, are low in carbohydrates.) To see the chart, visit www.PizzaMarketplace.com/carbcounter.
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