Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Trends
Authentic expectations

Consumer demand for genuine, unique recipes is growing every day


November 22, 2012
By Julie Fitz-Gerald

Topics

There is a change happening in the pizza industry, a culinary evolution that is seeing an increased demand for authentic and regional-style pizzas. Grabbing a quick slice to satisfy a craving has morphed into friends lining up on a Saturday night to indulge in century-old dough recipes and gourmet toppings that are baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven. It doesn’t get much more authentic than this.

authentic_pizza
One of the biggest factors for consumers in determining authenticity is simply whether or not they buy your story.


There is a change happening in the pizza industry, a culinary evolution
that is seeing an increased demand for authentic and regional-style
pizzas. Grabbing a quick slice to satisfy a craving has morphed into
friends lining up on a Saturday night to indulge in century-old dough
recipes and gourmet toppings that are baked to perfection in a
wood-fired oven. It doesn’t get much more authentic than this.

A
report issued by Technomic in April found that pizza consumption in the
United States has risen by more than 50 per cent in the last two years,
with demand for authenticity and regional specialties emerging as
growing trends. The report also found that 34 per cent of consumers are
willing to pay more for gourmet pizza ingredients, up from 22 per cent
in 2010, while 57 per cent of those surveyed want restaurants and
pizzerias to offer premium pizzas on their menus.

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Sara Monette,
director of consumer research at Technomic, says that consumers are
being driven by an appreciation for unique products. “Looking more
broadly at the trend of what’s making people want more authentic pizza,
it’s more about a call for the uniqueness in the things that they spend
their money on and the food that they are willing to purchase.”

Perhaps
one of the most sought-after regional pizzas is the Neapolitan. Cooked
in a wood-fired dome oven at approximately 900 F, the crust has a
charred, blistered effect while still being soft and chewy. The
all-natural, fresh and non-processed ingredients that make up an
authentic Neapolitan pizza include type 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes,
fresh Fiore di Latte or buffalo mozzarella, basil, extra-virgin olive
oil, sea salt and yeast. The Neapolitan-style pizza is so coveted that
an international non-profit organization known as Associazione Vera
Pizza Napoletana (VPN) was formed in 1984 to cultivate the culinary art
of Neapolitan pizza making. VPN Americas is responsible for certifying
Neapolitan-style pizzerias across Canada and the United States, with 10
pizzerias in Canada having already received this designation for meeting
the strict guidelines.

While Neapolitan pizza is the only style to
have its own regulating body, other regional pies are just as distinct
in their characteristics. Consumers are extremely savvy when it comes to
the claims of specific regional pizzas, such as New York-style, Chicago
deep-dish and Detroit-style pies, to name just a few. If a pizzeria
touts New York-style pizza as its specialty, customers are going to
expect hand-tossed, oversized, foldable slices with just the right
amount of sauce and cheese. If an establishment advertises Detroit-style
pizza, the offerings had better be a square, deep-dish crust with a
fried crispy texture on the outside and a chewy inner crust, topped with
marinara sauce. Anything less will not be tolerated.

Similarly, if a
restaurant has carved out a niche for Chicago-style pizza, customers
will expect a round, deep-dish, pan-baked pie loaded with toppings and
chunky tomato sauce, more suitable for eating with a knife and fork than
your hands.

There is no margin for error when it comes to authentic
regional offerings. Consumers are knowledgeable and, if their
expectations are not met, they will take to their mobile phones and
computers, letting everyone know of their disappointment. The Internet
is rife with blogs and social media updates from pizza-lovers who revel
in spreading the word about which pizzerias get it right and which ones
earn a failing grade. Monette refers to this information-sharing
generation of foodies as the “millennial generation.” They range in age
from 20 to 35 years and are characterized by their constant quest for
unique foods and new flavours, and their love of social networking.
“Talking about your latest trip to a new restaurant or a new menu item
that you tried is very common and people want to be part of that
conversation, so I think a lot of that leads to consumers looking for
more unique options as well,” she explains.

Enter the montanara: the
American incarnation of an ancient Naples recipe where dough is
flash-fried, then topped with ragù and cheese. In the United States, the
dough is finished in the oven, giving it an airier crust and turning it
into a modern-day bestseller. Pizzerias around the United States. are
carving out their niche market by putting the wildly popular montanara
on their menus and consumers just can’t seem to get enough.

While
Canadian preferences for pizza seem to run the gamut as far as regional
styles are concerned, there is a common thread that links them all
together: If pizzerias are promoting unique and regional styles, they
must deliver on these promises. As Monette explains, authenticity in the
pizza market is a trend that is here to stay. “Consumers are not only
interested in food, but they are more ethnically diverse and populations
are too, so they’re looking for that authentic experience. As they look
for greater value, they look at what a restaurant does to differentiate
itself from another. I see that as something that restaurants are going
to have to continue to do. You can’t offer the same old pizza and stay
competitive in this market.”

With the bombardment of sensational
advertising and stretched truths that consumers face every day, it’s no
wonder that the demand for genuine, authentic products is on the rise,
and those products include pizza. If pizzeria-owners can meet their
clients’ expectations, they are sure to capitalize on the growing trend
of authenticity.

Food and identity
The Institute of European Studies at Berkeley University of California hosted two events in 2010 that explored food cultures and history and resulted in the report, Food: History and Culture in the West. The paper raises an interesting point in its overview in that “it has become more difficult to know where our food comes from, and consequently, harder to feel connected to it.” Perhaps this is part of the reason people gravitate towards a tangible food source they can bring to life through story or even through the reality of its existence in their own backyard. It’s understandable that people would feel so lost when you consider the meaning of food in a social context. Darra Goldstein, founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, noted that one of the important ideas to come from a working group with the Council of Europe was that food is a “social process rather than a commodity and thus central to multicultural understanding.” 


Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Canadian Pizza.