This article originally ran in the July/August 2012 issue of Food Manufacturing.
What emerging trends do you see in the pizza industry?
I see a continued push toward upscale frozen pizza. This is done primarily through higher quality, gourmet toppings, including more interesting sauces such as chunky, spicy, pesto and white sauces.
I also anticipate that outlets for manufactured pizza including “take and bake” and grocery stores will increase as well as hot and ready-to-eat pizza at convenience stores.
How does this impact pizza manufacturing?
More variable, gourmet toppings are more difficult to accurately and repeatedly apply to the pizza. Chunks of vegetable and spice from the new sauces can clog depositor nozzles, creating substandard coverage and low weights. Thorough coverage with sauce, cheese and toppings creates a need to better control the entire topping process, from temperature control of the product itself to regular maintenance on the equipment.
Many pizza manufacturers are moving to longer, continuous production runs between sanitation cycles. This obviously requires the equipment to operate flawlessly for longer periods of time and puts pressure on the maintenance staff to ensure each piece of equipment is in good operating condition.
How are equipment manufacturers responding?
With sauce depositors, I have seen mechanical orifice cleaning during operation to clear product clogs. Multistage depositing, both with liquids and particulates, allows the user to tweak an individual portion of the overall deposit, offering tighter control. Technology such as bucket scales and weigh cell feedback is becoming more commonplace, allowing equipment to operate in a narrower weight band.
Grote has addressed the longer production runs by assessing areas in our equipment where debris can build up between sanitation cycles. Whether it is eliminating the area through design changes, offering safe, easy access to allow clean out while operating, or semi-automatic blow off or clean-in-place, the aim is to keep the equipment functioning properly during the extended run.
We also have had to look at our blade design to extend the time between blade changes to better match the new production cycle.
What thoughts do you have about the future of pizza manufacturing?
Pizza will continue to be a very competitive market, forcing manufacturers to continue to drive cost out of the product. And the pizza market will continue to grow. We see production needs in the Western markets changing as I discussed above. Some of the really exciting opportunities are what we see beginning to happen in China and India. Pizza consumption is increasing rapidly in both countries and demand for frozen pizza will follow. The toppings are different and the pizza diameters are smaller than in the U.S. to allow them to fit in the smaller refrigerators common in those regions.