In the Kitchen
Vegetarian and vegan pizzas
By Diana Cline
Continuing the topic from my last column, vegetarians and vegan folks are the largest growing market for our industry.
Meatless Mondays aren’t just a fad: they’re consistently gaining popularity. In the last two years, the vegan market, for example, has grown by leaps and bounds, mainly because many of our aging population and millennials are turning to clean-living vegan diets.
Google Trends shows a 90 per cent increase in searches for the word “vegan” in 2016. Research shows that the biggest shift in the growth is from meat eaters who are cutting back.
The biggest challenge for many pizzerias is finding a product to use in place of dairy cheese. Let’s face it, cheese is a major component of our North American style of pizza – from Chicago deep-dish to
Detroit-style, to hand tossed and all pan pizzas – if you accidentally omit the cheese on any of these styles of pizza, you are going to hear it from your customer!
In addition to the vegan customers, an average of 30 per cent of North Americans are lactose-intolerant. For the lactose-intolerant, eating cheese is not an option. It brings on not “just a tummy-ache” but pain far worse than many can imagine. Pizza has been off the menu for many of these individuals and their loved ones, and they miss it very much!
You might be tempted to overlook this segment, but you’d be overlooking a significant sized market. Think of all the office lunches and meetings you cater. I guarantee you there are one to three people in every crowd who can’t enjoy the same meal as everyone else. And think of the families. The parents of a lactose-intolerant child won’t be ordering pizza when that meal excludes a family member.
When you’re the independent pizzeria that everyone in the family can enjoy, there is no competition.
Dairy-free cheeses are becoming more readily available, mostly due to the size and demands of the lactose-intolerant community. There are several plant-based vegan cheese products available. However, none are designed for the high temperature of a pizza oven. Most melt into a puddle and have little “bite” to them after being baked at 500 F or higher. Others are more like a sauce you drizzle on after the pizza has been baked.
I urge you to research products, buy small quantities and play with them on your pizzas. This step is an investment in a starving market. Give it some attention and you’ll be glad you did.
Another option is to create your own alternative product. That’s what I did. Earlier this year, dozens of my vegan and dairy-free clientele suggested I could create something better tasting than the market-available product we currently offered. Since adding it to the menu in 2008, I have heard from customers that they either love or loathe it on pizza, with no in-between.
I researched a lot of different plant-based ingredients, brainstormed the characteristics I wanted to have in my vegan pizza “cheez” – mispelled purposely to distinguish it from cheese – and then started creating. I baked up samples and had my brave staff taste them. About one-third of my staff are either vegan or vegetarian. Around the fourth batch, even the meat eaters were asking for the last slice, and I was ready to test it on a larger scale.
I promoted a vegan pizza cheez tasting night in May. The evening sold out. Everyone filled out surveys and the feedback was phenomenal so we put it on the menu, held another tasting night in September and continue to have it as an option. The promotions helped me pack my restaurant on two Monday nights.
We price it the same as all the dairy cheeses we carry. It is actually a little more expensive than dairy cheeses. However, it has intense flavour, and its texture is more like a soft, ripened fresh buffalo mozzarella or goat cheese, so it is topped the way those are, meaning, not edge-to-edge coated, or covered, but rather more sparsely.
It’s worth mentioning that vegans and lactose-intolerant folks are used to paying more for their food, very much like the gluten-free community. They aren’t price shopping for the cheapest option, and they are definitely appreciative of the effort to cater to them. •
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year, three-time winner of “Canada’s Best Pizza Chef” at international pizza competitions, a judge for international pizza culinary competitions in Las Vegas, Italy and France, and a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is 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 business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis, for more information contact her at email@example.com