Exclusive: The Frozen Pizza Category Is Getting a Lot More Exciting

frozen pizza

Consumers today appreciate a convenient, tasty, heat-and-eat snack or lunch/dinner options – and frozen pizza fits the bills on all those counts. This popular and versatile dish has come a long way since its origins.

By Alexandra Arici

This evolution is clearly illustrated by emerging frozen pizza brands, such as One Planet Pizza from the UK. In a increasingly crowded market, the company has managed to differentiate itself from the rest by offering plant-based frozen pizzas with a low carbon footprint. The environmental aspect plays a central part in their business, which is built on the foundation of producing pizza that is “good for you, the planet and the animals we share this world with.”

To find about more about the company’s ideology and practices, Frozen Food Europe recently sat down with One Planet Pizza’s CEO and Founder, Mike Hill, and discussed key issues regarding the importance of using recyclable packaging, the rising plant-based trend and the changing perception on frozen food.

Please comment on the current state of the frozen pizza market in the UK.

The UK frozen pizza market is healthy and growing. It is one of the largest segments of the frozen fast food market and is expanding both in terms of total sales but also diversification into more varied and specialist pizzas.

Where do you source your ingredients from? Why is it important to keep it local?

We try to get our pizza ingredients as locally as possible, so while we get our pizza flour and the tomatoes for our sauce from Italy, the vegetables are all sourced locally. Our rapeseed oil in particular comes from a single source, a cold pressed producer who is only 12 miles from our production kitchen. We feel it is important because one of the key differentiators of our pizza compared to mainstream ones is our environmental credentials, keeping our ingredients local and the airmiles/carbon footprint down is key to this. We have had the carbon footprint of our pizzas compared to traditional meat/diary ones and we came out around 30% less.

You’ve recently become one the first frozen pizza companies whose packaging is completely zero to landfill. What prompted this move?

Since we started the business, we have always had pizza boxes which are 100% compostable, and a box sleeve that was carbon neutral, the only problem has been the cling film that wraps around the pizza. We would like to get rid of it all together, but it is difficult with all the toppings that we put on our pizzas, because they can be rubbed off in transit. But now that we have sourced a recyclable cling film we can claim that all our packaging is now “zero to landfill”, in other words you can either recycle or compost everything.

What opportunities exist for the packaging industry today that can improve eco-sustainability?

There are many that are coming to the fore. Firstly, from a design point of view, it is important to design in recycling and/or re-use. There are good examples now of companies such as Bol, who make plant-based salad pots, where they really encourage their customers to re-use the pots for storage containers at home. Secondly, we need to try to reduce the amount of packaging that we use and educate the market as to why we just don’t need a lot of it, and much of it is for cosmetic not food hygiene purposes. Thirdly a real focus at the moment is replacing plastics, with either bio-plastics, that can be recycled or composted, or with paper packaging. But above all we need to do our best to ensure that environmentally solid ideals are communicated appropriately for different levels of customer curiosity, for example, we have the technology to add a tiny QR code to a label and link more details that would be too much for most customers but satisfy the curiosity of others.

What are some recent trends in frozen pizza you have noticed in recent times?

I think the two recent trends are firstly – going more “artisan” and secondly going “plant-based”, which is obviously where One Planet Pizza fits in. We are seeing more and more different shapes, and recipes being used for pizza crusts, such as sourdough, and the range of toppings/flavors is expanding rapidly. The plant-based pizza option is now starting to be standard in supermarkets in the UK, with most of them having at least one version of it. In the independent health store market, we are now seeing one or two competitors coming in, whereas 12 months ago we were the only one in the freezer. This growth is being driven by both plant-based specialists such as us, but also by mainstream pizza brands such as Pizza Express and Goodfellas

How has consumer perception of frozen food changed in the UK in the last few years?

Definitely, frozen food used to be the “cheap” alternative, but now it is recognized for being not just convenient but also healthy and nutritious. The consumers have realized that sometimes frozen food is more nutritious than its “fresh” counterpart, especially where “fresh” can mean days or months old. Also, people’s freezers are getting larger in capacity in the UK, we aren’t quite up to American standards, but they have increase significantly over the last couple of decades.

Do you believe in a completely meatless/animal-product-free world? Is this a realistic long-term goal?

No I don’t, it may happen at some point in the far future, but we have to recognize that for some communities in the world, it would be almost impossible, and probably negative to the environment, if they stopped eating local/sustainable meat/fish and started eating plant-based foods, which may have to be shipped into their community. However, this is the exception, for most of the world’s population it will be healthier for them and better for their local and the worlds environment in general, if they could drastically reduce or even cut our completely their meat and dairy consumption.

What are some of the main growth opportunities for the vegan frozen pizza sector in the UK?

I think the key opportunities are getting meat and dairy eaters to start reducing their consumption by swapping in plant-based alternatives for their regular favorites such as pizza. Vegan cheese has become so much better in the last few years, particularly its “meltability”. We helped develop the melty, stretchy cheese that we use on our pizzas with VBites, and many people at our tasting events just can’t believe it’s not diary based. I also think there are opportunities for looking at online delivery models involving personalization, this is certainly on our development plant for the next 12 months.

With Brexit on the horizon, how do you think the frozen pizza segment in the UK will be affected? What about your company? Have you devised a strategy meant to minimize its impact?

I was hoping you would mention the B word! There will definitely be implications for many pizza companies, but the big brands will be able to cope with it better than small ones such as us. Many of them already produce in both the UK and mainland Europe, so may avoid any possible tariffs etc. At the moment One Planet Pizza does export into mainland Europe, but it is less than 5% of what we do, however we are looking to expand this significantly and at least one distributor we are talking to is holding off making a decision until the Brexit landscape becomes clearer.

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