The Deep Freeze
Offering frozen pizza for carryout or nationwide shipment isn’t a new idea. The first frozen pizzas on the market can be traced back to the early 1950s.
Favorite hometown pizzerias across America long ago installed freezer cases in their front of house for those out-of-towners who crave those pizzas to take the treasured delicacies back to their localities.
Chains like Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s have been shipping their signature pizzas for decades. Both have dedicated sites where their fans can order pizzas to be delivered nationwide. They have the ability to ship anywhere in the nation, thanks to a packaging wonder: dry ice. And with the help of companies like Goldbelly and its curated marketplace of purveys from across the country, independent pizzerias can get in the frozen pizza game.
Enter a worldwide stay-at-home order and nationwide shipping of restaurants’ favorite dishes exploded. The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown brought a new opportunity to bring restaurant-quality frozen pizza into homes. The influx of orders combined with increases in carryout and delivery pizzas overwhelmed some of the big nationwide pizza delivery players, forcing them to pause nationwide delivery while they focused on their local communities. Others balanced both businesses.
There are a few different revenue streams with a frozen product: wholesale and retail. Wholesale is an entirely different topic that we’ll dive into in the future. What we are focusing on is direct-to-consumer retail sales via in store, internet and mail order. Before venturing down this road, you must check USDA and FDA criteria and requirements.
Before you can even think about revenue, you must factor in the set up and operational costs. That involves the production, packaging and shipping that represents the quality of your pizzeria.
What about the pizza?
Your pizza will need to hold its quality through par-baking, shrink-wrapping and local distribution or nationwide shipment. This will require testing to be sure that the frozen product is representative of your pizzeria’s quality and reputation.
While some pizzerias are able use their dough formula unchanged, some adjustments to your dough may be required for your desired result. The late, great Tom Lehmann addressed that very question in our Pizza Today archives. “That par-baked crust has actually been baked twice, once when it was par-baked, and the second time when it was baked as a pizza,” he said. “This double baking drives off many of the desirable volatile flavors and aromas, thus reducing the overall flavor profile of the finished crust. I can’t definitively say why your crust is chewy, but if you are using a typical, high protein content pizza flour, this might explain it. To reduce the toughness/chewiness in the crust, try going to a bread flour rather than a pizza flour. This should produce a more tender eating crust characteristic. If the crust is still too tough or chewy with the lower protein bread flour, I would suggest that you increase the fat/oil content of the dough to something in the 8 to 12 percent (flour basis) range. This is commonly done when making commercial frozen pizzas as the higher fat content provides tenderness to the finished crust. It also helps to increase flavor retention in the crust, making for a better tasting crust.”
So, what’s the investment? It all depends on how big of an operation that you are projecting. It may be as little as new or expanded freezer space, a shrink-wrap machine, product labels and shipping and packaging materials. Or it could be as extensive as a commissary operation to handle the volume and quality control of the frozen line.
We consulted two legendary pizzeria leaders who have added a frozen product for nationwide delivery recently to share their experiences.
Maggie Mieles operates di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn, New York. The famed pizzeria added its frozen line before the pandemic and opened a ghost kitchen and commissary to fulfill its growing demand.
“I believe pizza is one of the most popular and favorite meals whether it be fresh, frozen, hot, cold and when it is fresh and then frozen without any preservatives, flavor is protected and does not get compromised,” Mieles says. “The key is to have one of the best pizzas; and if it’s not the best, keep trying. Shipping perishable items overnight comes at a very high cost. I can only speak for our brand when stating I think the nationwide shipping will remain in our future. We have been in business since 1965 and many years people waited for the day to come when we start shipping. I wish we paid attention to what that would result in much sooner. It was our best decision of 2019 and remains so.
“The frozen line is the exact recipe you would find in all locations,” she continues. “The only challenge was we would have to downsize the pizza by making them 12-inch pies rather than 18 inches. We also ship the fresh basil separate instead of on the pizza. Once the customer receives and heats the pizza, they are instructed to snip the fresh basil just as we do here in N.Y. My advice to other operators is it never hurts to test your product as a frozen version and if you are confident in the results, go for it! In the beginning it will be challenging but during holiday and busy seasons, there is such a tremendous pride in knowing your pizza is being enjoyed nationwide.”
Detroit Style originator Buddy’s Pizza has also launched nationwide delivery. “We introduced our frozen pizza product right before Christmas last year,” says Buddy’s Pizza Chief Brand Officer Wes Pikula. “The holidays are a great time to share a Buddy’s Pizza with friends and loved ones nationwide; particularly those who couldn’t make it make to Michigan to enjoy a pie directly in our restaurants.
“The logistics challenges that had to be addressed included ensuring the highest quality of production, packaging, and shipping,” he continues. “We market the program via our website, social media and e-mail. We also partner with Goldbelly on their advertising efforts, including paid social and paid search. The best advice I have for operators considering offering a frozen product is to ensure that you can maintain the quality and integrity of the product and have a plan in place for production, packaging, order fulfillment and shipping.”
Frozen pizza on a small scale is doable for many operations. So, is it worth diving into the market? It’s up to you to evaluate if there’s enough of a market for you to justify the added operational expense, storage and labor.
DENISE GREER is Executive Editor at Pizza Today.