Tis the season to rake in the pizza orders and give those busy baking, entertaining, holiday crazy-making folks a break from their kitchens. I hope it’s a prosperous kitchen rush for all – one that sets a positive tone as we clink champagne glasses on Dec. 31. Which begs the question: What’s ahead (besides a likely hike in cheese prices)?
The world of food and how people relate to it is changing, sometimes in contradictory ways. On one hand we hear calls for simple authenticity, the finest ingredients and a local story behind our ingredients. Less sodium, less fat and more veggies please, shout the masses. But wait – we also want more convenience, the comforting tastes we’re addicted to and the opportunity to eat our emotions when warranted. To say people’s relationships with food are complex is an understatement at best.
I attended a food innovation event hosted by the Guelph Food Technology Centre and Maple Leaf Foods, where Chef Michael Smith of the Food Network gave the keynote address. He mostly aptly described the current situation: “The food industry is facing the highest expectations in history.” Smith, who has travelled to 37 countries in the past five years, mentioned repeatedly that customers are savvier than ever before, as he spoke of the trends he sees happening around the world.
“Consumers are waking up,” he warned. “Take them for granted at your peril.”
For pizzerias, the toughest challenge is to address some of these ongoing issues, like reducing sodium, without upsetting a loyal customer base that wants your unique pie. It’s tough to figure out what these savvy customers are waking up and wanting. The media shouts healthier food but I bet the sales reports are indicating meat lovers pizzas are top sellers. Poor pizza – it gets such a bum rap in the general press: always the first to be named as an example of junk food, it seems. But it’s an individualist’s food if ever there were one and people choose extra cheese, bacon and sausage at their own risk. This may be the case, but the case is also that people are changing; they just won’t change overnight. To stay competitive for the long haul, you will need to develop healthier pies and working with a dietitian is a great way to formulate.
Smith brought up some interesting points from his world travels. Pizza is steeped in tradition but also the ideal food for creativity, so if you’re looking to experiment and have a client base hungry for innovation, it’s a real “anything goes” culture of combinations. Smith identified contrasting flavours, such as cayenne and cherry, as an area of growth, as well as vegetal flavours like the vegetable yogurt seen in Europe. Flower flavours in food are growing, as are destination/vacation inspired flavours. If you’ve been itching to create a rose petal topped pizza drizzled in a vegetable glaze, your time has come.
But whatever you do in your mission to stay competitive, don’t drop the quality of your food. If anything is clear in the shifting marketplace it’s that this isn’t the time to be cutting corners. That’s why we’ve decided to focus on adding value and pricing in our December issue. Trends may come and go, but making a profit is still the bottom line.