Fresh vs. Bagged

I have a small diner where more than 60% of our sales come from pizza. We buy our dough balls pre-formed and frozen, use Dei Fratelli sauce, and 100% bagged Part-skim mozz. Toppings are mostly sliced fresh with the exception of olives and banana peppers. Comparable competition uses similar items but they dilute their cheaper sauce with water and the mozz with provolone. Their pies come out really greasy and sloppy. Folks who try our pizzas rave about them and talk about them being a superior pizza to the other locals. Since we started a little ceasars has opened and a papa johns will be here in a few months.

I’m always on the search to do things better, to offer only the best. I also have a healthy respect for the “local flavor” concept. With that being said I am more than a little worried about the national franchises coming to town and the relative ease at which one of my comps could pick up and duplicate my product. Now onto my question.

How much difference does fresh or homemade make for you? I really want to separate myself from the rest of the bunch and have a truly unique offering. In my area there are no homemade pizzerias. All of their ingredients are bagged, frozen, and/or canned. I am going to build a wood fired oven at home to experiment with that possibility. I just wonder if I can move my customers toward a unique offering or have I painted myself into a corner with 2 years of off the truck products? If you were going to change my program would you go for a complete renovation or just change a few things (keep the Dei Fratelli and do my own dough, switch to fresh mozz and homemade sauce and keep the doughballs, etc.) I’m really open to advice, especially from those who have been there done that.

I know this is a scattered post, I’ve got a lot going on in my head right now. I’m mainly just looking for opinions and ideas.


if it aint broke. don’t fix it

Two things jumped out when I read:

  1. Provolone doesn’t “dilute” mozzarella so much as it adds a flavor profile element that the extremely mild mozzarella doesn’t have, assuming we are talking low moisture stuff we generally all use.

  2. I recommend to anyone and everyone that great tomato sauce makes great pizzas, and assuring that you have a great tasting sauce will secure your place in the market. If your sauce is somehow not what you expect it to be, then definitely do some testing with some premium “fresh pack” tomatoes to see if you can zero in on greatness . . . test and develop small batches for your own experiments, then taste tast to customers to get their input.

It is almost always the customer taste preferences we are aiming at, so whatever you are changing needs to be geared towards their satisfaction.

  1. (just hit me) Dough made in house from flour will definitely help profitability and COGS ratios over pre-made and frozen balls. I’ve used the latter for 7 years, and am paying the price with every case I order. Great product, and convenient . . … but I pay more for it than flour/water/yeast.

It wasn’t a dig at those who use a prov/mozz mix, or any other mix for that matter. The key comment that I left out was that their pizzas come out exceptionally oily. Don’t get me wrong, I ate a truck load of pizzas from around here before I opened my place. When I was trying to put my pizza together my two big concerns were: 1) A dry and thoroughly baked crust, and 2) no excess oils on top. The distributors all told me that the leading cause of oily pizza was “cheap” cheese and oily meat toppings (primarily cheaper pepperoni). They use the same mozz i do, so I blame the oil on their prov. It also leaves an aftertaste that overcomes a person after a few squares, so again, I personally blamed the provolone. Another thing about this equation is that three pizza places all use the same sort of mozz/prov mix and they all have nearly identical tasting pies (and oily) pies. But this isn’t necessarily about their cheese vs mine, so much as it’s about moving toward a truly unique and harder to duplicate product. I am looking for a flavor profile that is all mine, and not something a salesman can duplicate with another customer.

I guess what I should have asked is have any of you folks made such a transition and if so, how did you approach it? Did you ease into it like a hot bath or dive in head first with a brand new product?

As a side note, I currently use an impinger oven, which probably gives me a dryer product.

Thanks for the replies so far fellas!

The first thing I would suggest is making your own dough (assuming you have cooler space to handle storage). It will allow you to imrove both product and profit at the same time. A rare enough combination. With our dough ball weights, making dough is about 30 cents per pizza cheaper. Even at only 30 pizzas per day the savings is several thousand per year. Enough to pay for the equipment in one year.

The same equipment will grind cheese for you and will save you another sizable chunk of change since block is generally 10-15 cents per pound cheaper than bagged shredded or diced.