In the Kitchen
the pizza chef: Healthy pizza in demand
By Diana Coutu
By Diana Coutu
More and more Canadians are demanding healthier meal options for themselves and their families. Like it or not, Canadians are reading the nutritional labels on products before deciding whether or not to buy them. Women – who still do the majority of household shopping – are the most likely to read the nutritional information. By being proactive in asking your customers what they want in a healthy pizza, you’ll be well positioned to for a nutritional trend.
More and more Canadians are demanding healthier meal options for
themselves and their families. Like it or not, Canadians are reading
the nutritional labels on products before deciding whether or not to
buy them. Women – who still do the majority of household shopping – are
the most likely to read the nutritional information. By being proactive
in asking your customers what they want in a healthy pizza, you’ll be
well positioned to for a nutritional trend.
Food manufacturing companies have noticed and are even adding things
like omega 3, DHA and extra iron to everything from yogurt to bread.
Health Canada is demanding that restaurants reduce the amount of sodium
in their dishes, although so far they’ve neglected to impose the same
threats on all the “heat and serve” meal options at the grocery store
and the recommended levels of salt are still in debate. There is a lot
of discussion of banning trans fats, which New York City and British
Columbia did last year. It makes a great deal of sense. A healthier
population means fewer dollars spent on health care and an overall
better quality of life.
The movement toward healthier meals was instigated by the consumer.
Back in 2000, we began making a line of 100 per cent whole wheat pizza
crusts and while it took time for them to catch on, today they
represent 40 per cent of our sales. Paired with our low-fat mozzarella,
a few vegetables and our lean grilled chicken breast they are not just
healthy, they are also quite delicious. These days, Canadian consumers
expect to find heart smart meal options on your menu – even for fast
food. More and more chains are adding these options to their menus and
are having positive feedback. There are many pizza places, chains and
independents that offer whole wheat and/or multigrain pizza crusts to
match the increasing demand.
Most places are reactive about this change in the marketplace. Several
companies thought that it was simply a trend that would pass quickly
and failed to accommodate what’s now an expectation. The companies that
are constantly asking customers what they want, and exposing them to
new options, are in a better position to be ahead of the curve and
profit from this change in consumer tastes.
At Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria, we have always polled our customers and
created pizzas and menu items to cater to them. Our whole wheat crust
began in very small batches, with free sample slices to gauge our
customers’ reactions. About a year ago we started getting calls
requesting gluten-free pizza. The number of calls increased every
week, so we decided it would be wise to invest time in creating a
recipe. We spent about six months developing a recipe and then
incorporating it into our busy pizzeria that specializes in wheat
pizzas. The day we launched our gluten-free pizza crust, we already had
a list of customers who were eagerly anticipating it. Other than
calling everyone on the list, it took very little effort to promote our
Lately, we’ve been working with some folks at the Canadian
International Grains Institute on perfecting a barley flour pizza
crust. Barley is beneficial by providing both soluble and insoluble fibre, whereas whole wheat flour only has insoluble fibre. North
American diets are severely lacking in fibre and our initial batches
have had very positive tasting results from staff and customers alike.
Just a little more tweaking to our recipe and we’ll likely add it to
the menu as a taste of the month this year. Depending on the response,
it may end up on our menu as a permanent heart healthy choice.
We’ve also been taste testing turkey bacon as another heart smart
option. Many of our customers are baby boomers and have been told by
their physicians to cut down on red meat. Initial customer reactions to
sample slices with turkey bacon have been extremely positive, so
positive that we brought it on for our featured taste of the month for
December 2009. My prediction is that it’ll be a hit from the start and
find its way onto our permanent menu.
Regardless of whether you thought healthy pizza was a fad or a fleeting
trend, you have to be living under a rock not to notice the increased
demand for healthier meals in 2009. This year will undoubtedly be more
of the same, making it a great opportunity to asses how well your menu
stacks up on the health front.
Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza Magazine chef of the year
champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of
Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and a board of director for
the CRFA. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also
a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development,
creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing
and positioning to help operators grow their businesses effectively and
strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis; for
more information, contact her at Diana@dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca.