2010 July: Commentary

2010 July: CommentaryRecently, I spoke to a reporter from USA Today. He asked me about pizza’s place in the fast-food hierarchy. When he picked up the phone to call me, I doubt he expected such an animated and strong response to what seemed like a simple, innocent question. I guess you could say I had a “soap box” moment.

A few days later, my publisher, Pete Lachapelle, had Matt McClellan on his cell phone. Matt is sick and tired of pizza’s “junk food” reputation. As the most highly customizable dish in all of foodservice, pizza can be as healthy or suicidal as the customer wishes it to be. Matt, who owns a pizzeria in St. Petersburg, Florida, is on a mission to prove that pizza can have health benefi ts if consumed as part of a well-balanced diet. He’s illustrating his point by cycling up the East Coast. In fact, he is scheduled to end his Tour de Pizza this month. Read more about it in the August issue of Pizza Today.

But that’s another story. Back to the phone call. As Pete and I talked to Matt, he used the dreaded ‘F’ word not once, but twice. This got the two of us a bit fired up again. You see, we can handle the so-called ‘F-bomb’ all day long. We’re not exactly saints. But this particular ‘F’ word — fast food — is far worse. (Okay, ‘fast food’ is actually a two-word phrase, but let’s not get bogged down by minutiae here).

As Pete and I talked, we began to realize that the sorely misplaced fast-food designation has become pizza’s proverbial albatross.

Why shouldn’t pizza be lumped in with fast food, the uninitiated might ask? First, let’s just take the definition of “fast food.” Notice that critical first word … fast? What’s fast about pizza? Nothing. 

You woke up this morning and made fresh dough. The process took time. The dough is now proofing and aging, which allows it to slowly develop spectacular flavor for use not today, but tomorrow — or maybe even the next day. 
Your prep crew spent much of the morning cutting, slicing and dicing fresh vegetables. 
When a customer places an order, you’ll then start the process of preparing their meal to their specific wishes. You’ll dress that dough, to order, with sauce, cheese, meats and vegetables. You’ll then place the customer’s pizza in the oven, where it will be fresh-baked. The entire process, from order origination to fulfillment, will take 15-20 minutes. Let’s compare this to an experience at a fast-food outlet. 
The customer will pull up to a drive-thru speaker. 
They will look at a pre-determined list of meals and choose a number. 
Thirty seconds later the customer will pay at a window and be handed a bag of food that was pre-cooked and sitting under warmers. See any similarities between pizza and fast food? I sure don’t.

Unfortunately, pizza suffers from a cruel twist in identity, one in which its key strengths have worked not for the category, but against it. Think about it for a second: What is one of your biggest selling points? Pizza provides exceptional value, right? It is both inexpensive and delicious. Can’t go wrong with that equation.

Pizza is also efficient — it pleases just about everyone, and it’s designed to be eaten by families or groups. That $10 pizza feeds 2-3 people. That equates to $3.33-$5 a person. That falls within the price range of the fast-food category, which is rife with $1 items.

I’ll take that $3 slice over the $1 burger every day of the week. As will most people. So get out there and tell them about the time and care you put into preparing a fresh, made-to-order product that is wholesome and delicious. While it’s not news to you, it will be to them.

Best,

Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
jwhite@pizzatoday.com

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