Canadian Pizza Magazine

Trading Up

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Trading Up

Pizza is the perfect product to take up-market.

Pizza is the perfect product to take up-market.

Let’s be honest. There are things in your life that you spend too much money on. What is your poison? Top-of-the-line golf equipment? Days at the spa? Italian shoes? Designer shampoo? It’s OK – everybody has an Achilles heel that ends up hurting their wallet.
Some items are just more important to us for reasons we don’t even understand and because we attach more value to these items – we’re willing to pay more: Starbucks versus C-store coffee, Victoria’s Secret versus Fruit of the Loom, sea salt versus table salt. These are all examples of commodities that have found life and profitability as luxury items. For those of us in the foodservice industry, there’s abundant opportunity to inject a little prestige into the menu. The marketing challenge lies in understanding how to sell the sizzle and not just the steak.

Luxury items are nothing new. Products that cater to the rich and famous have existed practically since the launch of the first consumer good. Status symbols were typically designed as a way of separating the “haves” from the “have-nots.” One look at the car you drove, the house you lived in or the jewellery you were sporting and the world knew where you sat on the cosmic food chain.


What’s important to understand is that this flaunting of the family jewels was a kind of “outbound” activity – one designed to impress others and announce to the world that you had made it. Consumer goods were either commodities or luxury items. Consumers could choose between Rolex and Timex – there wasn’t much in between. As the money flowed during the eighties, the luxury goods market thrived but there were a few clouds on the horizon: the recession of the nineties, a maturing population, and numerous competitors able to “knock-off” the real deal at a fraction of the price.

Designer knock-offs meant that status symbols were now available to the masses. Who could tell the difference from a short distance between a real Rolex and a faux Rolex? Trying to impress others is also often a function of immaturity and as we get older, we care more about impressing ourselves. It’s all about the selfish reward – less about the flash. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the time was ripe for commodities with a touch of snob appeal. refers to these items as “snoboddities.” The key to marketing to the “new luxury market” is to understand that the appeal is now more of an inbound process. It’s not about flaunting the luxury to others – it’s about savouring it all by yourself.

Trend guru Faith Popcorn mentioned the phenomenon of turning completely mundane commodities into chic, popular luxury items years ago when she dubbed it the “small indulgence.” Many of the strongest brands in foodservice have grown by successfully tapping into this trend. I can pretty much bet that my grandmother would think I was nuts to spend almost four dollars at Starbucks for a cup of tea. Never mind that it’s a chai tea latte – made to order by my very own “Barista.” She’d still shake her head in disbelief.
The wine industry is seeing brisk growth in the $10 to $12 per bottle category and artisan breads are growing at a faster clip than their doughy mass-produced counterparts. It may be a function of an aging population whose tastes are becoming more sophisticated or a post 9-11 “live for today” mentality. The evidence is clear, consumers are ready to take it up a notch and they’re willing to pay more for new luxury products.

The key to marketing new luxury products is first to make sure that the product is actually designed to be different from competitive products. In our Starbuck’s example, the chai tea served as a latte makes it structurally different from a plain old cup of tea. Next, the product must perform differently than the competition. The chai tea actually tastes different due to the ingredients and the processing. Finally, the design and performance enhancements must result in a more emotional engagement with the product. We’re not talking epiphany here, just a few stolen moments to enjoy something that can’t easily be replicated at home.

Pizza is the perfect product to take “up market.” Crusts can be made more exotic by brushing with flavoured oils or using different ingredients such as whole-wheat flour. Speak to your distributor about toppings that are hardy enough to withstand the cooking process without drying out. Enquire about unique cheeses that can make the product more cosmopolitan. Why not create a menu that features a variety of pizzas from different regions of Italy? The point of sale material can describe the regions and those ingredients they’re famous for, creating a whole travel story around the pizza. Key attributes of any successful new luxury item include a sense of adventure, learning and play. Instead of looking at your menu as a series of items, start with a story and let the menu development flow out from there.   

New luxury items allow all of us to have our “Walter Mitty moments.” We just want to know what it feels like to be the alpha dog even for a brief time. Ely Calloway took Calloway golf to a 40 per cent market share in less than ten years. When Calloway introduced the Big Bertha golf club in 1991 he summed up the new luxury segment in a nutshell. Calloway designed the club because he knew that “Every golfer wants to hit the ball just like a pro at least once a round.”•

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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