For all the talk of consumers desiring more exotic cuisine, the UK’s love of pizza shows no sign of abating.
Research from the Pizza, Papa and Italian Food Association puts the value of the out-of-home and home delivery pizza market at a cool £4 billion, underlining why the sector is constantly brimming with a mixture of ambitious trailblazers and incumbents desperate for their share of the spoils.
The low production costs and enhanced margins that a pizza menu can generate has attracted dozens of operators to the field, with the equipment market growing and diversifying in equal measure to support this opportunity. This has created an environment where no one type of pizza oven is the overall winner, says Steve Morris, sales director at Jestic Foodservice Equipment.
“While arguably nothing can rival the taste and visual spectacle of a stone hearth wood or gas-fired oven, we are seeing operators looking at alternative options with some operators instead choosing electric ovens, citing reasons including the initial purchase price, ease of installation, ease of use, reliability and energy efficiency.
“Conveyor ovens are still the clear choice for QSR chains which require speedy, high volume production with consistent results, and many casual dining outlets are selecting electric deck ovens which offer consistency, capacity and versatility but in a smaller footprint,” he adds.
Jestic’s own portfolio is reflective of this fierce segmentation, with brands such as Wood Stone, Sveba-Dahlen, Alfa Pro and Edge all offering something very different from one another, and very specific to the needs of certain foodservice operations.
What is right for one pizza operation and the kind of end-product it wants to achieve might not necessarily be suitable for another. Cooking with flames has certainly become a well-defined trend within the pizza oven sector, with restaurateurs enthralled by the theatre it creates, as well as the individuality of product that can be created.
But for every operator hiring a fully skilled pizzaiolo to get the most from their equipment, there are probably another three or four sourcing an electric oven for the consistency and usability it offers or to suit a scenario where staff turnover might be high or pizza is an extension to a menu.
Pizza Express has consistently delivered quality and their prices are great”
“High speed ovens and conveyor ovens will continue to be the preferred solution for the chain businesses and they deliver consistency with lower skilled staff although there will always be a place for ovens that make quality artisan pizzas for restaurants,” describes Kenny Smith, managing director of Middleby UK.
There are countless examples of operators successfully deploying a range of methods and machinery to produce the kind of pizzas they want — and oven suppliers remain well-placed to pick out those that are excelling in the market.
For Middleby’s Smith, the way that the mainstream market heavyweights go about their business deserves a huge amount of credit. They have hundreds of stores to manage and a reputation to upkeep but it doesn’t stop them from constantly refining their offer.
With dealing with the top three pizza chains — Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Domino’s — we admire the way they continue to innovate their production while stimulating the market,” he reveals.
He also thinks pub chain JD Wetherspoon has upped the ante with its pizza offer and succeeded in creating a product that delivers true value for money. “Wetherspoon has impressed with how they have produced a quality pizza as part of their extensive offering at a reasonable price.”
Shaune Hall, product development chef at Falcon Foodservice Equipment, cites another bastion of the market — Pizza Express — as a chain that continues to get it right. The high street giant opened an Innovation Centre in London last year and it is playing a key role in menu and kitchen development. “They have consistently delivered quality and their prices are great,” says Hall.
On a local level, meanwhile, he highlights Delivino as one to watch. “As a chef, I am always interested in local restaurants delivering quality food. Delivino, a small, local Italian restaurant group, based in Scotland, provide excellent service. They serve innovative pizzas using seasonal and fresh ingredients, made on crisp, thin bases,” he says.
Specialist pizza oven supplier LLK, meanwhile, rates operators that cook their dishes in a way that is true to their cuisine, such as Manchester-based Sardus Vinoteca. It cooks all its dishes in a Cuppone Michelangelo oven, including pizzas that are made using quality Italian ingredients.
Amelie Restaurant in Cambridge is another operator using the same oven to produce flammekueche, a dish from the southwestern French-German border that is similar to pizza.
“Its thin, yeast-free dough base is traditionally cooked at a high heat for just 90 seconds and Amelie stays true to this technique using our Cuppone Michelangelo oven,” explains commercial director Jenna Lewis. “This oven is ideal for this cooking technique as it is able to reach high temperatures very quickly and its heat regeneration system prevents heat from escaping from the oven once the door is opened.”
Another pizza operator catching the eye is vampire-themed Lost Boys Pizza, which has locations in Archway and Camden. A unique offering of smoky charcoal pizzas, each named with a vampire pun consistent with their theme, has won it a legion of fans.
“They cook their pizzas using our small but mighty Cuppone Tiziano oven, as it is the ideal size for their limited kitchen space but has the power to keep up with their busy operation,” explains Lewis.
“They are also able to hire this model for when they take their offering to food festivals, such as Cocktails in the City in London.”
So what’s likely to drive pizza equipment purchasing behaviour moving forward? And can we expect to see any major shifts in trends?
“Wood-fired pizzas will always be the desired choice of customers. However, operationally some caterers would prefer faster heating up times and cooking units that can deliver quality colour and flavour without compromising on the consistency,” suggests Falcon’s Hall. “There is definitely an opportunity for high speed ovens that can deliver this to caterers.”
The continuing challenge is to bring a quality pizza and a faster speed particularly for takeaways and home deliveries”
Middleby UK’s Kenny Smith agrees. “Many new operators are bringing pizzas with new doughs and various new toppings. Many are looking for speed and consistency. The continuing challenge is to bring a quality pizza and a faster speed, particularly for takeaways and home deliveries.”
Ultimately, operators need to ensure their own pizza offering stands out from the crowd and delivers on taste.
“Choosing the finest, seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients is key to giving customers the best tasting pizza, but operators are also looking for equipment — and in particular the right oven — that can deliver the quality, consistency and speed needed by the site while offering reliability and energy efficiency,” notes Morris at Jestic.
Specifying the right oven is the most important decision facing any operator seeking a slice of the pizza market.