Kitchener-Waterloo

Frozen pizza from local restaurants offers gourmet quality and unique flavours: Andrew Coppolino

Many grocery stores have a large selection of frozen pizzas for sale, but food columnist Andrew Coppolino says during the pandemic, some local restaurants have been offering their pizzas for sale in a frozen state to great success.

'It's almost a no-brainer' for pizza shops to sell frozen pies, trade magazine editor says

Bread Heads pizzaiolo David O'Leary says they sold frozen pizza before the COVID-19 pandemic, but he's seen sales increase over the last two years. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

David O'Leary was selling frozen pizzas before the pandemic though his Kitchener, Ont., company Bread Heads, but sales have increased over the past two years as more people stayed home due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

He says he's experimented with different techniques and has found a cooking method that works for him. He par-bakes the crusts, allowing them to cool, before adding the toppings and then freezing the pizzas.

When a customer gets it home, the pie goes in the oven at a high temperature and comes out quickly. 

"It should be as hot as possible for as short a time as possible to get a good result," O'Leary said, adding that he's happy with the way the pizzas finish cooking after being frozen.

"Frozen is not the same as our fresh pizzas right out of the oven, but they're darn good."

Frozen pizzas are boxed up and ready to go at Bread Heads in Kitchener. (David O'Leary/Bread Heads)

Growing trend

Par-cooked, or partially cooked, frozen pizzas that you can grab from your freezer are a convenient and quick snack or meal that can be finished in your oven in less than 15 minutes.

Across the globe, the market for frozen pizza is anticipated to grow to $24.2 billion by 2027, found a report last September from the market research website Reportlinker.com.

In Canada, Nielsen research found frozen pizza sales had climbed to $650 million by March, 2021, with 74 per cent of households having purchased some variety of bake-at-home or do-it-yourself pizza. 

General Assembly of Toronto recently closed a $13 million Series A round of funding for what is perhaps the first frozen "pizza subscription" for home delivery. The investment allowed the pizza company to expand production to 10,000 pizzas a day by the third quarter of 2021.

'It's almost a no-brainer'

Several independent pizza businesses in Waterloo region have answered the call, selling par-cooked and frozen pizzas as part of their revenue stream.

Pete Tessaro, co-owner of Those Pizza Guys in St. Jacobs, says his small shop has made roughly 5,000 frozen pizzas since the beginning of the pandemic, selling them from the restaurant or at other retailers. 

"Our frozen pizzas are the same pizzas that we sell at our store. We cook them to about 80 or 90 per cent of their final cook, cool them, freeze them and vacuum-pack them," says Tessaro.

Pete Tessaro holds up a couple of Those Pizza Guys frozen pizzas. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Their business model is popular across the country, according to Colleen Cross, editor of Canadian Pizza magazine. She says that there is more interest in grab-and-go and pick-up food, including pizza, than ever before.

"I'm seeing it when I talk to pizzerias that it's almost a no-brainer, that frozen is something that they can get into as another revenue stream," says Cross.

Gourmet quality

It's opened up opportunities for business alliances, too. Brady's Meat and Deli in Waterloo carries a wide range of foods and grocery products from around the province and around the world. Brady's now has a partnership with Those Pizza Guys: Brady's butcher provides the pizza-makers with his special sausage, for instance, and they put it on a frozen pizza, called 'The Roberto,'" for Brady's to sell.

The specialty pizzas may be a little more expensive, but they are "gourmet quality and worth it." 

WATCH | Frozen pizza sales boom during the pandemic:

Frozen pizza sales boom during the pandemic

2 years ago
Duration 2:03
A look at why pizza consumption (and pizza-making) has surged during the pandemic, driving up frozen pizza sales by 20 per cent in March.

It's a win-win relationship, said Rob Brady.

"Our freezer section with the frozen pizzas is busy," he says. "There's more demand from customers and people come in and go straight for it."

The partnership has created some unique — and sometimes quite playful — toppings such as poutine-sausage and even haggis.

"That one was for Robbie Burns Day. It sold out in two days," Brady says.

From plant-based to jerk pizza

Nadia Dragusanu's Café du Monde Crêperie also ramped up selling frozen foods because of demand during the pandemic. Her range of pizzas is flash frozen, including popular gluten-conscious and plant-based pizzas.

"We've seen growth in sales for frozen pizzas during the pandemic," Dragusanu said, adding a portion of sales from its goat cheese pizza go toward supporting Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region.

A relatively new and unique entrant into the frozen pizza market is Big Jerk Smokehouse. Chef-owner Kevin Thomas has spent several months working on the flavours and technique.

Kevin Thomas of Big Jerk Smokehouse has created a jerk pizza he describes as Jamaica meets Italy. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

"A friend who sells pizza ovens approached me and said things at restaurants are slow but a lot of people are eating pizza during the pandemic. It took lots of practice and lots of repetition to get them right," says Thomas, who now has his frozen jerk pizzas at a several local food retailers.

He got some pointers on making dough from Thompson Tran at Wooden Boat Food Company. 

"He introduced me to the dough which is a two-day bulk cold-ferment," Thomas said. "It was a very quick learning curve."

He describes jerk pizza as Jamaica meets Italy. 

"We're taking a neo-Neopolitan dough recipe and loading it up with the best of jerk. That's jerk chicken, jerk pork, a little ackee and saltfish and callaloo, which are more traditional Jamaican offerings," Thomas said.

'Can't see a downside'

Local pizza-makers are coming up with dynamic flavours, even if the scale of production isn't close to what frozen supermarket pizzas sell, but they have changed the landscape to an important degree, according to Cross at Canadian Pizza.

"I can only really see it growing and can't see a downside," Cross says.

"It may never be done on a large scale, but it's just one of many options that pizza makers can offer their customers."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

CBC-KW food columnist Andrew Coppolino is author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press). He is the 2022 Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewcoppolino.

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