Canadian Pizza Magazine

Checking in on health

Laura Aiken   

Features Business and Operations Health & Safety

Health Check rolled out in in 1999, first for grocery then offering a
restaurant program in 2006. Over the last decade, its symbol has become
synonymous with a trusted healthy product.

Health Check rolled out in in 1999, first for grocery then offering a restaurant program in 2006. Over the last decade, its symbol has become synonymous with a trusted healthy product. The program is meticulous and impartial, its standards set independently of industry. However, the marriage of quick serve and Health Check is a relatively new phenomenon first executed by the pizza industry – Pizzaville, to be precise.

With a thin crust and the right amount of cheese, pizzas can meet the Health Check standards.


Pizzaville launched its four-item foray into Health Check in September 2010. The company hosted a big meeting that brought together franchisees and representatives of Health Check, says Alan Serrecchia, Pizzaville’s director of franchising. The rules weren’t clearly defined for quick serve, he says, and there were some growing pains that pushed everyone to realize what was realistic for quick-serve industry. Some of Health Check’s more rigid rules of information placement didn’t work in an environment where each store is a little bit different.


“A large part is executing, and how you execute [Health Check] properly in the store…Health Check is quite particular and the industry doesn’t lend itself to that because of the volumes and the intensity of the rushes.”

The rollout involved a lot of printed materials, right down to recipes being posted in the stores for pizza makers to follow on the line. There were booklets and training videos and rallying to ensure all franchisees were on board. Health Check performs random testing on its participants to ensure the dishes are maintaining consistency. They even test Pizzaville’s call centre by calling in with questions about the program (which Pizzaville scored 100 per cent on, a point of personal pride for Serrecchia, whose duties include managing the call centre).

Pizzaville is a small chain when compared to an outfit like Domino’s, with 65 stores to date and another five expected to be operational by the end of the year. The chain is in Ontario only and focuses on making primo pizza from high-quality ingredients, keeping the brand focused on gourmet rather than price. Its collaboration with Health Check was born of the changing demographics and the general demand from hungry people, who are now looking for nutritional information whether they do anything with it or not, says Serrecchia. The chain first introduced its Xtra-Thin line, which sold well and laid the groundwork for meeting Health Check’s criteria.

“We did a lot of testing and failing, testing and failing, and the testing isn’t cheap,” he says. It took about six months to develop four products that met Health Check’s nutritional standards. Three are pizzas: a medium thin crust potato pizza, an Xtra-Thin fresh veggie pizza and an Xtra-Thin crust goat cheese pizza. The fourth is a spinach and ricotta penne. Pizzaville uses their regular dough and did not change the cheese for the Health Check items, just the amount of dough and the amount of cheese.

“In this industry where people usually demand more, we are in fact enforcing less and that’s ironic.”

Pizzaville uses different marketing campaigns, such as “Less crust, more taste” to downplay the negative connotation of “less” when it comes to a pizza. They put the healthier items on big tasty-looking posters. It’s key to meet expectations,” says Serrecchia, and, taste-wise, what customers expect of a healthy product will be different than what they expect from an unhealthy one.

“Is this pizza the best you’re ever going to eat? No, but it’s a healthier option and people were pleasantly surprised, especially with the pasta, which was all made in house by a chef daily.”

Pizzaville eventually obtained and posted online the nutritional information for nearly their entire menu. The process has been enlightening, Serrecchia says, learning how even the salt in the water for pasta can make such a big difference.

Health awareness is certainly prevalent. Serrecchia is fielding questions daily about the nutritional content of Pizzaville’s food. Whether the customer makes a healthier decision or not, he says it’s become top of mind. There will be always be the indulgent pizza to have on our menu, but customers are looking for healthier options, whether they choose them or not.

The cost of participating in Health Check may be prohibitive for an independent, as all those laboratory bills can add up. For now, as the restaurant program is still relatively new, Health Check has been focusing on getting chains on board to help fulfil its mandate of influencing the eating choices of as many Canadians as possible, writes Stephanie Lawrence, assistant director of communications and marketing for Health Check and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, in an e-mail to Canadian Pizza. However, Lawrence says one of the program’s guiding principles is to make the fees as low as possible.

“A sliding fee structure for the grocery program was developed to allow all companies – large and small – to participate. In fact about 40 per cent of the companies in the grocery program only pay between $300 and $500 per year to participate in the program. The model for the restaurant side of the program is evolving and we hope to be able to work with as many operators as possible.”

She adds that the restaurant program is more complicated than grocery, requiring more time and resources to work with the program’s partners and ensure consistency in meeting the criteria. Health Check has made its nutritional requirements available to the public on so all restaurants can access them to guide healthy recipe development. Health Check also provides information and resources for restaurants to help them develop healthy menu items, says Lawrence. So whether participating in Health Check is a fit for your pizzeria or not, you can use their nutritional resources to improve your menu.

Serrecchia says the number of customers who order Health Check items has sustained and Pizzaville has developed a niche market that’s tried it and stuck with it. But at the end of the day, there’s one thing he says you can’t forget.

“If it doesn’t taste good, nobody’s going to eat it.”

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