In the Kitchen
Pizza on Fire: Building a healthier menu
By Tom Stankiewicz
By Tom Stankiewicz
Healthy eating seems to be on everyone’s mind these days.
Healthy eating seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. For some people, eating healthy is a lifestyle choice, while others are forced by underlying health problems to change their dietary habits. Our aging population is also driving the demand for healthier food. Since pizza is a very popular meal, it’s no surprise that the demand for healthier menu choices has grown. Many pizza makers have resisted the change for a long time, but it only makes sense to offer what your clients are demanding. After all, if you keep telling your customers “no”, they will shop elsewhere for what they are looking for. Those who have been in this business for a long time know that eventually pressure from customers will stir the business in a certain direction. This time around, customers are demanding healthier menu choices, and we need to prove to them that pizza can be a healthy option.
Besides the whole-wheat, garlic and jalapeno dough options available on the menu at my pizza store, we are going to be offering gluten-free pizza dough. While this is not necessarily a healthier crust by definition, it does address a dietary need. Adding another option to our already wide variety of pizza crusts should increase our existing customer base. I am purchasing a pre-made gluten-free dough and baking in the same oven as my other pizzas. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to food, and we have to cater to those preferences to sustain our customer base. Some clients can’t imagine eating their pizza without hot and spicy toppings, whereas others prefer mild pizza. We look at this change as just another addition to our menu that meets a dietary need.
We all know that vegetables are healthy. Advertise healthier options by creating specialty veggie pizzas and adding them to your menu. Customers can read the list of pizza toppings, but not all of them know how to combine them for a better taste. For example, a simple addition of roasted red peppers or oven-roasted garlic can change a pizza’s flavour from great to awesome. This is a perfect opportunity to use your sales skills to increase your bottom line. Every additional topping you put on a pizza means more revenue for you. I have noticed that the sales of vegetarian pizzas have been steadily increasing for the past few years.
When talking with your clients, don’t forget to ask if they would like a salad with their pizza. The important part to remember is to ask. If you don’t ask, people will not buy. I experimented with this at my own pizza store and I wasn’t surprised at the results. One day, we offered each customer a salad with their pizza order. We sold about 50 per cent more salads on that day. The same applies to offering any extras like pop, chips, or cookies. Think about yourself as a customer. When you stop at the variety store to buy milk, chances are you leave with milk and chips, chocolate or a pack of gum. You are not alone. Everyone does it. The point is, the same rules can be applied to selling pizza. The main advantage is that you would be asking your customers to add a healthy side dish, and for those who pay attention to their eating habits, it will be difficult to say no.
A lot of our customers choose chicken over pepperoni or sausage on their pizza. Although pepperoni is still a very popular topping, lean chicken breast is following closely behind. This is another opportunity for you to promote the healthier toppings, especially when a customer is not sure what to put on their pizza. We all get calls from customers who are having tough time deciding what they would like on their pizza. By suggesting chicken instead of pepperoni, you are introducing this customer to the gourmet pizza toppings that generate more money for your business.
Another reason we need to offer healthier pizza choices is that nowadays everybody has access to the Internet. Healthy pizza recipes are available online to anybody who wants to find and make them. In order for us to cater to this group of people, we must not only emphasize healthier toppings and dough, but also remind them about convenience and saved time. I have noticed that many businesses advertise using only fresh produce instead of canned or frozen food. This is a smart idea that lets your customers know that what they’re eating is fresh and healthy.
It will be interesting to see what the pizza industry will look like in 10 or 20 years. My prediction is that our customers will expect us to deliver both healthy and exceptional quality food. I believe this will be necessary to keep loyal customers. Part of our challenge will be to continue proving that pizza can be a healthy meal choice.
Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years. He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London, Ont., since 2000 and is president of the Canadian Pizza Team.