Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing Insights: Hot Commodities

Michelle Brisebois   

Features In the Kitchen Ingredients

Hot Commodities

Time for a roll call! OK, those ingredients that we’re
supposed to avoid please report immediately to the principal’s
office. Let’s see; trans fats, sugar, salt, MSG, carbohydrates (well,
OK, you’re just on a time-out) … did I forget anyone?

Time for a roll call! OK, those ingredients that we’re supposed to avoid please report immediately to the principal’s office. Let’s see; trans fats, sugar, salt, MSG, carbohydrates (well, OK, you’re just on a time-out) … did I forget anyone?

The list of ingredients to avoid just keeps getting longer every week and if you look at the lineup they all have one thing in common – they add flavour. By the time all of these culprits are removed, our pizza boxes will taste better than our menu items. Consumers want to avoid these ingredients but not at the expense of quality or flavour.

It’s a challenging problem. There is, however, a white knight. This hero is ready to address our concerns, with more upside than downside. It’s time to get familiar with spices.


Salt in particular gives that flavourful punch to our tasty treats. It’s in the cheese we use, those pepperoni toppings, bacon and even in the tomato sauce.

Nutritional data indicates that 20 slices of pepperoni provide about 31 per cent of our daily sodium quota. A 15-year study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that people who ate less salty food had a 25 per cent lower risk of cardiac arrest or stroke, and a 20 per cent lower risk of premature death. (British Medical Journal, April 2007). The recommended daily intake for Canadians aged nine to 50 is 1500 mg and aged 51 to 70 it’s 1300 mg.

Canadian researchers looked at data from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey and discovered that among people aged 19 to 70, 85 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women consumed more sodium than was recommended. The data did not include salt added to food.

The report then proceeds to take aim at the foodservice industry, reporting that “pizzas, sandwiches, hamburgers and hotdogs accounted for 19 per cent of sodium intake in people’s diets, followed by soups at seven per cent and pasta at six per cent.”

As Canadians age they worry about their health and their taste buds are less sensitive. It stands to reason that a hotter/spicier menu will appeal to the aging tastebuds.

We have also become increasingly concerned that our children are experiencing food-related health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure about 40 years early. The food industry will need to look for ways to remove the rogue ingredients yet maintain the flavour. Spices fit the bill perfectly.

Food reports that complexity of flavours is a major trend. “Flavours must extend beyond fusion. A single spice isn’t enough: It needs to be combined with additional spices and flavours.”

It’s a trend that’s echoed in sister industries such as the baking industry and the wine sector. Suddenly, blending different flours and different grapes to get a signature taste profile is trendy. It’s alchemy at its best – the sum is greater than the individual parts.

The U.S. is seeing an increase in Cajun and Caribbean flavourings for pizza. These trends tend to begin on the West Coast and move east.

Even chocolate has been touched by the trend for heat with Cowgirl chocolates marketing a very successful line of chocolate with added chili powder. It seems that everybody’s looking for a little more zest and heat.
Work closely with your distributor representative to choose herb and spice blends that will give your menu items a tasty and distinctive flavour profile. A pie with fresh sliced tomatoes and rosemary, basil and black pepper will be bursting with flavour and have a more upscale appearance. It could be marketed as a “Rosemary and Tomato Tart.” This will command a higher price point.

Look for toppings and spices that will add heat instead of salt to your menu items. Vietnamese and Thai restaurants are popping up all over Canada. Pizza can tap into this trend by using toppings such as shrimp and cashews and spices such as lemon grass and ginger to recreate the flavour profile of these cultures.

Don’t forget the crust. Use olive oils mixed with spices to marinate the pizza dough. This will impart the flavour into the crust as well as on top, giving the consumer a full taste experience from top to crust. Simply mix the spices with the oil, spread on top of the rolled out thawed dough and let it permeate for a few hours. It’s sure to make your crusts true signature items.

If there really were a principal’s office for foods – it feels like pizza would get sent there often. It shouldn’t be automatically lumped in with foods that are unhealthy because its versatility allows pizza to be anything we need it to be.

The slow food movement is the antithesis of the “eat and run” commodity sector that pizza is often associated with. It’s all about savouring the eating experience. It embraces the sourcing of one’s food locally and herbs and spices are a big part of that trend.

Consumers are looking at not only the flavours the individual spices can provide but they’re also toying with spice blends. If you leverage your spice key properly, you will literally and figuratively make your menu hotter.•

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies. Michelle can be reached at

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