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Pizza half of QFF ready meal sales in France, where wood-cooked thin crusts gain favor.

Pizza Half of QFF Ready Meal Sales in France, Where Wood-Cooked Thin Crusts Gain Favor

In France sales of pizza are booming. Since the mid-1980s they have increased some 15% to 20% a year, and the end is not in sight. It has been estimated that purchases of pizza represent half of all retail frozen ready meal transactions in the country.

The bulk of the purchasing takes place at hypermarkets and supermarkets, which move 25,000 tons a year. Freezer centers and home delivery services sell 13,000 tons annually, and small stores (including superettes) move another 2,000 tons, adding up to a grand total of 40,000 tons. Standard pizza with a "traditional" crust represented 68% of the market in 1990, but sales of same increased only 4%. The rapid growth is now occurring in special types of pizza.

French frozen food statistics, as reported in Grand Froid, divide the special pizzas into two groups: thin crust and those cooked with a wood fire. These categories are confusing because producers may describe their thin-crust products as "smoked with wood" or even "cooked with a wood fire." Be that as it may, thin crust pizzas are said to have accounted for 16% of the market in 1990; cooked with wood for the remaining 16%. Growth was most rapid for "cooked with a wood fire," up 32%, as opposed to 19% for thin crust.

Because pizzas are high turnover items, private label has come on strong. As one might expect, standard pizzas appear frequently under a store label. Systeme-U, for instance, sells 400g "U" pizzas: 4 Saisons (a basic French variety, with tomatoes, green peppers, artichokes, mushrooms, green and black olives, cheese and ham); and Pizza Royale (of which 66% is a topping of tomatoes, onions, pepper, mushrooms, cheese and pork shoulder). The prices are low -- 7.65 francs for Pizza Royale on sale and 10.50 for 4 Saisons. The boxes give no indication of the type of crust.

Distributors do not limit their private label business to standard pizzas, however. Many examples of specialized products can be found in store brands. Moreover, standard items are not limited to private label.

Vivagel makes standard pizza unusually appealing by packaging what it calls "les classiques" in handsome boxes. The back of the carton shows a painting of a pizza at a table set with wine and flowers, in a style reminiscent of Renoir. A strip of a painting in the same style appears on the box front above a vivid photo of a succulent pizza. The names, "les Classiques" and "Vivagel" are set into a silver-colored band that runs around the box.

Among the pizzas that inspire this display is Jambon Fromage: 49% crust of an unspecified thickness and 51% garniture of ham, cheese, black olives and tomatoes. In small type one reads that 100 grams contain 197 calories. At an Intermarche the price for same is 11.75 francs.

Toppings on pizzas sold in France tend to be rich and elaborate. One of the national favorites is Fruits de la Mer (seafood). On a Gorcy pizza with a thin crust, smoked in wood, the ingredients are made up of prawns, scallops, cockles, onions, mushrooms, cheese and a puree of crustaceans. Not surprisingly the price is 24.10 francs for 250 grams.

A trend in the realm of toppings is cooking ingredients together before they are placed on the pizza rather than assembling them raw. The advanced cooking, along with complex combinations of ingredients, causes the pizza to resemble a "plat cuisine," or cooked dish.

The Pizza Bolognaise (in the style of Bologna) illustrates this trend. For the topping, chopped beef is marinated, sauteed with onions, tomatoes, and herbs; and finally simmered. Findus and Gorcy (under the name Marie) both sell this thin crust pizza.

Other examples of thin crust pizzas abound. The supermarket chain Euromarche sells its own varieties: 4 Saisons (350g for 13.20 francs) and Ham and Cheese (330g for 11.20 francs). A packet of blended spices accompanies them.

Findus offers a thin-crust pizza of ham, cheese and black olives that can be cooked in a microwave or oven. With the product comes a packet of olive oil and Cayenne pepper to be added just before serving. The pizza weighs 350 grams, costs 20.50 francs, and contains 196 calories per 100 grams.

The freezer center operation Picard sells no fewer than six thin-crust recipes, including a pizza with cheese, broccoli and mushrooms (400g for 18.90 francs). Not surprisingly, an employee of the chain told this reporter thin crust varieties are the best sellers.

Pizza Julio prides itself on the fact that its thin crust Italian-style products are individually made. Toppings are placed by hand and sprinkled with herbs from Provence before the pizza is cooked over a wood fire. Flavors include Roquefort and Anchovy-Cheese. A 450 gram ham and cheese pizza costs 22.80 francs at Picard.

Many of the pizzas described as cooked with a wood fire are said also to have a "pate a pain" (bread dough) crust. One is Gorcy's Pizzaiolo of ham, mushroom, and cheese. The crust is cooked directly on warm stone and smoked in wood (400g for 22.10 francs). Picard carries a ham and cheese pizza of "pate a pain" cooked on stone.

Reynaud SA, which sells pizzas garnished by hand and cooked over a wood fire, under the name Le Mas des Reynaud (the Reynauds' farm), deliberately gives a simple appearance to its pizza packaging in order to emphasize that the products are made by artisans. The boxes are printed in black on white, on only two sides and the front, which shows a drawing of a farm. A colored sticker indicates the type of pizza, which may be ham or "royale" (shoulder of pork, mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and black olives). To fulfill French regulations, pizza must be cooked over oak to qualify as a wood fire product.

At least one pizza designed especially for dieters is on the market: Gorcy's Recette Legere. The front of the box proclaims that the 160 gram offering is a single serve dish of less than 300 calories. The back notes that 100 grams provide 149 calories and that the contents are: crust, 32%; tomatoes, 36%; ham, 25%; peppers, and cheese, 8%.

While a few customers of the Picard store appreciate this pizza, Quick Frozen Foods International was told its sales performance there has been mediocre. The savings in calories is actually not great, as pizzas not described as being low calorie may have only about 185 per 100 grams. Casino, in fact, sells a 4 Saisons Pizza with 70% topping and 30% crust that contains 177 calories per 100 grams.

Thick crust pizzas without the smoked flavor exist, most notably through McCain. When the Canadian multinational firm broke into the French pizza market last year, it brought with it "American" pizza. Its Original Pizza is 515 grams of thick crust topped with smoked ham, cheese that strings, tomatoes and mushrooms, or with artichokes, cheese and mushrooms. The product is cooked in a dish rather than on a grill or slab as is usual in France.

Advertising for Original Pizza emphasizes the American connection. Above a frozen food cabinet in a Leclerc hypermarket this winter was a poster for original pizza proclaiming: "McCain bets $5* that you are going to love it." The explanation for the asterisk is: "If you are not satisfied, you will be reimbursed (on the basis of 1 dollar = 6 francs, including your mailing cost . . .)." The price of the pizza at the Leclerc outlet was 24.40 francs.

Foreign firms like McCain are making inroads into the French pizza market. The two Systeme-U pizzas described previously come from Germany. The Italian firm Buitoni has been selling Italian-style pizzas in France since 1989, and the German outfit Wagner moved into France in 1990. Another name frequently seen in French frozen food cabinets is that of the Italian firm Mantua.

As suggested by McCain's Pizza 4, individualized pizzas are appearing in increasing numbers. Pizza Julio sells 405g and 210g boxes. Gorcy carries two 130g in a 260g box, in both standard and wood smoked styles. Picard offers 3 Pizzas Regalti. Each of the three has standard crust, combines ham, cheese and mushrooms, and weighs 150 grams. The box costs 20.40 francs. Casino sells 3 Pizzettas, which are 70% ham and cheese topping. Each pizza in the packages weighs 150 grams. As with many, but by no means all, of the pizzas on the market, cooking can take place in a standard oven or in a microwave appliance.

The most original new French pizza may well be Pizza Feuilletee, which requires a standard oven for preparation. Produced by Maitre Feuillade, this pizza has a crust of puff pastry. After tasting it, this reporter's only complaint was that at 330 grams, the pizza was not enough to satisfy two people, at least as a main course. However, the French may choose to serve it as an entree. The ham, cheese, and black olive topping was flavorful, and the flaky crust set off the topping deliciously. Maitre Feuillade also offers a seafood pizza and three quiches in puff pastry.

In France, as Maitre Feuillade reminds us, pizza has to compete for consumer attention against quiche products and other unsalted pastries, next to which it is usually shelved in the freezer case. This fact makes it all the more remarkable that sales of frozen pizza increased more than 15% in 1990.

PHOTO : Picard serves up 3 Pizzas in a 450g box for 20.40 francs. The standard crust product is topped with ham, cheese and mushrooms.

PHOTO : Vivagel's Jambon Fromage is part of the les Classiques range of frozen pizza products. Topped with ham, cheese, black olives and tomatoes, the 350g offering retails for 11.75 francs.

PHOTO : Perhaps more French than any other pizza on the market, Maitre Feuillade brand Pizza Feuilletee features a puff pastry crust.

PHOTO : This thin crust Pizza Cuite au Feu de Bois now being offered in Picard freezer centers features mushrooms, ham and black olives.
COPYRIGHT 1992 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:quick frozen foods
Author:Davis, Mary B.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:1690
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