In the Kitchen
Changing faces means changing menus
By Timothy Twydell
The culinary demand for new tastes
By Timothy Twydell
One only needs to visit a major Canadian city to realize that the face of urban Canada is changing. People from all over the world live in our cities and they bring changing appetites and food needs with them.
One only needs to visit a major Canadian city to realize that the face of urban Canada is changing.
People from all over the world live in our cities and they bring changing appetites and food needs with them. How does pizza – a food that has been enjoyed in Canada for decades – remain a popular choice for all Canadians and continue to evolve to meet the needs of an ever-diversifying population?
Now the largest chain in the nation, Pizza Pizza has met the challenge of introducing products that appeal to a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.
In the past year Pizza Pizza has introduced several new items with a unique cultural appeal: sweet green chili, tikka masala sauces, mango pesto and Asian sweet Thai sauces have found their way to the forefront of their menu.
The most ambitious of all the additions to the Pizza Pizza menu is the introduction of Halal beef and chicken. Halal meat is meat blessed by an Imam, a Muslim holy man, and is very important to Muslim cultures. It is a specialized item available to franchisees who feel the need to meet a demographic demand.
However, it’s not just a handful of locations: a quarter of the Pizza Pizza franchises offer Halal meat, with most located in large urban centres such as Scarborough. This community is home to a large Muslim population.
Pat Finelli, vice-president of marketing for the national chain said their mandate is “to be ahead of the curve in bringing new products that appeal to new Canadians.”
Inside the Pizza Pizza on King and Bathurst in downtown Toronto, customers confirm the wisdom of Pizza Pizza’s strategy.
“I love stopping (here) after spinning class. It’s quick and convenient … and the updates to the menu means I never get bored with what I am buying. I absolutely love the Thai pizza,” said Sue Owen, a thirty-something condo-dweller and self-proclaimed pizza connoisseur.
Pizza Pizza is not the only company to introduce new products to address the shifting cultural dynamic in urban centres.
Little Caesars takes great care in informing its customers of its vegetarian-based products.
According to their marketing information, “Little Caesars’ pizza crust is made with a quality, high-protein flour and contains no animal products or by-products. The sauce is made from crushed tomatoes and is seasoned with a special blend of herbs and spices – it also is made without animal by-products. This means that customers who are strict vegetarians can order a vegetable pizza, without cheese, and still fulfill their needs.”
Pizza Hut has a varied menu that also includes many vegetarian choices. The cheese is “rennet free,” and the menu offers three signature vegetarian pizzas: bruschetta pizza, Greek and Mediterranean.
For the demographic that does not consume beef, chicken pizza choices include grilled chicken Italian, chicken Florentine and chicken lovers’ deluxe.
While chicken is a relatively new topping choice for most pizza places, these days it has become a staple item for the major chains as they reach out with new pizza combinations.
Consider this when reviewing the competition and the shifting demands of consumers coast-to-coast: people want to know what they are eating, and not just for the traditional dietary elements either.
The majority of the major pizza chains now list details of ingredients and any allergens that might be present to further assuage the fears of any patron not wanting to be exposed to meat or meat byproducts on corporate websites … providing yet another opportunity to reach out to a wider swath of pizza lovers. It might be just data, but it is still part of a carefully crafted marketing plan to distinguish themselves from the competition.
How can independents fare in light of this shifting cultural demographic? Independent pizzerias carve out a niche by specializing in the cuisine of the ethnic neighbourhoods that they serve.
King David Pizza and Boureka has been a venerable institution in Thornhill, Ont., for 16 years – a community home to a large Jewish population. King David specializes in creating kosher pizzas to meet the demands and beliefs of their market.
Hamid Rajavee the manager describes what makes a pizza kosher: “The pepperoni is soya-based. All the vegetables are washed individually at least four times, and a Rabbi blesses everything. Meat and cheese have to be separate.”
Christopher’s Pizza is an independently owned pizzeria in Sutton, Ont. Sutton borders Lake Simcoe and is a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers. As the urbanites have migrated north from the sprawl of the GTA – and brought their culinary tastes with them – Christopher’s has had to change.
Longtime Christopher’s employee, Cathy Brourgeois, has noticed a shift in customer tastes. According to her, the store has had to add BBQ chicken, sun-dried tomato and feta to the regular menu and vegetable slices now sell out on the weekends.
Pizzerias, be they national leaders or small-market independents, need to continue responding to the changing ethnic face of Canada. As a greater influx of citizens from overseas arrive – and bring a new buying power – it is imperative to communicate with them to meet their needs and culinary passions.
By introducing new toppings, sauces and meats, the pizza industry can outpace the more rigid menu quick-serve giants and build a loyal customer base for years to come.•