Canadian Pizza Magazine

The Newest Tool

By Cam Wood   

Features Trends

Gourmet Trend Lends Itself To Wine & Pizza Pairings

On the foundation of a century-old Italian bread dough
recipe, Keith Toppazzini is hoping to build the next level of success
for his Ontario-based Topper’s Pizza.

Gourmet Trend Lends Itself To Wine & Pizza Pairings

857089On the foundation of a century-old Italian bread dough recipe, Keith Toppazzini is hoping to build the next level of success for his Ontario-based Topper’s Pizza.

With shades of last season’s hottest big screen movie, Toppazzini hardly gave a sideways glance at the opportunity to bring together his renowned gourmet menu and some of the finest wines produced in Ontario.


At the media launch of the latest offering from the Topper’s family, the co-CEO cited a recent study in the United States, showing that one in five adults now consider themselves gourmet consumers. This has pushed the gourmet industry past the $40 billion mark in North America. Toppazzini said the growing sense of consumer sophistication, combined with people’s passion for some finer moments in their culinary experience, means the timing is right.

“We began introducing specialty pizzas to our customers several years ago, primarily in response to the demands of adults who wanted to be able to order flavourful bistro-style pizza,” he said.

“The first question is ‘where is the fit,’” Toppazzini said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve the family dine-in-home experience. Our goal is to improve the dine-in-home experience, not the dine-out experience. We understand the popularity of wine as a beverage. Now, we’ve taken the concept of providing a list of wines that perfectly match our specialty pizzas.”

According to the Wine Council of Ontario, sales of Ontario wines grew 5.4 per cent over the previous year, for a total of $394 million in overall sales. Ontario wineries purchased over 26,450 metric tonnes of grapes, and produced some 44 million litres of wine in 2004.

Topper’s, as a brand, does not offer dining room service. The company is a strictly take-out operation, and in-house analysis has shown more and more consumers are choosing to eat at home. In fact, the trend may even become more prominent in the coming months, given the speculation over fuel and energy costs, and its impact on the disposable income of the average Canadian.

“We see the trend is moving towards more in-home (dining). We see it already in other areas,” he said.

So, consequently, the question becomes, if Topper’s does not have dine-in service, nor do they serve alcohol at their stores, how does wine come into play?

Toppazzini said the strategy behind their latest brand extension is to work with both the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the WCO to provide suggestions to consumers. The pizza company has produced an advertising program for each of the stores to help educate customers on which wine would complement one of the gourmet menu items.

“We don’t see ourselves as in the business of pizza, we see ourselves as being in the meal replacement business,” Toppazzini said. “In our research and development, we don’t think ‘pizza,’ we think flavour and experience.”

And in terms of R&D for this venture, Topper’s partnered with the wine council to find perfect matches for their selection of pizzas. In all, 11 different Ontario wineries have contributed to the wine pairings.

Keith Toppazzini serves some of his specialty pizza to members of the LCBO. Last week, the Topper’s Pizza chain announced a partnership with the liquor store and the Wine Council of Ontario for wine pairings with their gourmet menu.

“When this idea came about, we continued to explore it with the wine council,” Toppazzini said. “They went back to the wineries and came up with a great selection of VQA wines.

“This kind of business entrepreneurship fits in with what we are,” said Sherri Haigh, director of public affairs for the WCO. “It’s all about food pairings, and we’re also trying to bring people back to the Ontario wines.”

Toppazzini explained that in developing the wine pairings, the goal has been to cater to the interests and tastes of a segment of their adult consumers who already consider themselves aficionados, as well as drawing a new experience to those who are interested in cultivating a taste for good wines.

But the pizza executive is also careful to point out that Topper’s, and its partners in the venture, are strong advocates of moderation and responsible drinking. Toppazzini said they have no intention of moving into the serving aspect, and that the wine pairings are suggestions to help consumers make choices.

Toppazzini has also recognized the potential of co-operative selling. Traditionally, family pizzas have been sold in pairs, with one menu for the adults, and a second for the children. Not to neglect these equally important decision-makers, Toppazzini has suggested some non-alcoholic beverage pairings might make it into the overall strategy.

Haigh pointed out that the pairings are suggestions, and that some consumers already have their personal preferences for wines.
“It’s all about personal taste, and no one’s taste is wrong.”

Haigh said the staff at the LCBO are well trained in wine knowledge, and may make other suggestions based on the kind of pairings in the Toppers program. She added, that the choices are meant to be easy solutions for consumers who may not be well versed in wine matching.

When making the pairings, Haigh said the wineries opted for moderately priced wines, all under the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) designation. Statistics show most Ontario consumers are choosing $10-range wines for home consumption.

The idea is to get consumers to try different wines, and move progressively towards the next level of wines, she added.

As for the changing demographic in food consumption, market research publisher Packaged Facts found that nearly one-fifth of American adults can be considered gourmet consumers, and are fuelling a $41.2 billion industry. Packaged Facts projects that the market for gourmet foods and beverages will top $62 billion by 2009.

Based on data from Simmons Market Research Bureau, the report estimates that 18.3 per cent of adults try to eat gourmet food whenever they can. And it’s getting easier to do. Several factors are making gourmet products more available, appealing and affordable, including greater involvement in gourmet on the part of mainstream food marketers, expanding retail distribution of gourmet products and a growing synergy between the natural and gourmet foods industries.

“We see an opportunity, and believe we have something (customers) will appreciate,” Toppazzini said.

To encourage consumers to buy into the wine pairings, the pizza chain is conducting a contest. Over the course of the promotion, which runs from now through to December 2005, any adult visiting a Topper’s store can fill out a ballot (one ballot/customer – no purchase necessary) and be eligible to win the Topper’s/Ontario Winery grand prize getaway:  a one-day tour of Niagara country for a group of 16 friends and family, courtesy of Niagara Airbus, along with $1,000 spending money, a mid-day Topper’s specialty pizza and wine tasting event at the prestigious Château des Charmes winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake with Topper’s founder Ron Toppazzini, Topper’s co-CEO Keith Toppazzini, as well as Paul Bosc Jr., vice-president of Château des Charmes.

As for future growth of Topper’s, Toppazzini cited the strategic advantage of locating in retail centres where an LCBO outlet was present. While only six of the current 32 pizzerias are neighbours to the liquor store, future locations may well be affected by this factor. Toppazzini said they expect another four stores to open in 2005, between 10 and 20 in 2006, with an overall business model calling for upwards of 70.

“Rapid growth is part of our business model,” he said. “We look for people who want to grow beyond one location.”

Right now, the focus for Topper’s remains steadfast on the Ontario market, primarily in the bedroom communities outside of the Greater Toronto Area. Toppazzini said their analysis has shown that the demographics of those communities best fit what his chain offers.•

When it comes to pairing wine with food, the basic guideline is to focus on the strongest flavour on the plate. As a general guide, look for wines that offer good fruit flavours, fruit driven tannin and moderate acidity to cut through the richness of our sauces and cheese.  Here are the recommendations from the participating wineries for the Topper’s chain.

Grilled Chicken Bruschetta
Ripe red tomatoes, grilled chicken and tasty garlic butter suggest serving a clean white wine with lots of citrus fruit and crisp acidity such as Vineland Estates Semi Dry Riesling VQA. Red wine options would be light to medium bodied with soft red berry fruit and good acidity such as Colio Estates Gamay Noir VQA.  

Chicken Parmesan
The salsa sauce, diced tomatoes, grilled chicken and Italian herbs pair well with a crisp refreshing white wine such Eastdell’s Unoaked Chardonnay. Red wine enthusiasts would enjoy a medium bodied red wine such as Château des Charmes Gamay Noir VQA .

Pizza Primavera
The Mediterranean flavours of sun dried tomato, roasted red peppers and roasted garlic made this an ideal partner for a crisp dry rosé such as Cave Spring Dry Rosé VQA. Alternately, a white wine with a hint of sweetness and balanced acidity, such as Stoney Ridge Reserve Riesling VQA, would also add an interesting dimension.

Olives, tomato and feta drive the flavours of this Mediterranean delight. This pizza is suited for a dry rosé such as Pelee Island Rosé VQA.

Chicken Caesar Pizza
It is the creamy tomato and garlic sauce, crisp bacon and marinated chicken that suggest this pizza will please red and white wine fans. Red wines would include Lakeview Cellars Baco Noir VQA. This wine is intense in colour, ripe with compote fruit flavour and packs enough spice for this slice.   

Pizza Romano
The pepperoni, Italian sausages and Italian herbs make this ideal for red wine with good fruit and a clean finish such as Pelee Island Pinot Noir VQA.

Shrimp Scampi Pizza
These toppings, combined with garlic butter and seasoning, suggests a white wine is on order and gives license by adding some sparkle. Enjoy this pizza with some fine Ontario sparkling wine such as Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut VQA.

Pizza Fiesta
Fiesta indeed; zesty sauce, marinated chicken, tomato, Italian seasoning and a sprinkle of feta open the door to red or white wine. This pizza is well suited to the spice and fruit of a medium bodied red wine such as Peller Estates Heritage Baco Noir VQA.

Tropical Heatwave
A flavourful treat with tropical fruit and underlying spice from the hot peppers calls for a wine with a hint of sweet such as Legends Estate Cab Franc VQA. Red wine options need to be light to medium bodied with spicy red berry fruit and acid balance such as Henry of Pelham Baco Noir VQA.

Print this page


Stories continue below