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

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

He says he experimented with different techniques and found a cooking method that works for him. He pre-bakes the crusts, letting them cool, before adding the toppings, then freezing the pizzas.

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

“It needs to be as hot as possible for as little time as possible to get a good result,” O’Leary said, adding that he was happy with how the pizzas finish cooking after being frozen.

“Frozen isn’t the same as our fresh-out-of-the-oven pizzas, but they’re damn good.”

Frozen pizzas are packaged and ready to go at Bread Heads in Kitchener. (David O’Leary/Bread Chefs)

Growing trend

Pre-baked or partially baked frozen pizzas that you can take out of your freezer are a convenient and quick snack or meal that can be finished in your oven in less than 15 minutes.

Worldwide, the frozen pizza market is expected to reach $24.2 billion by 2027, according to a report published last September by market research website Reportlinker.com.

In Canada, Nielsen research found frozen pizza sales jumped to $650 million in March 2021, with 74% of households purchasing a variety of home-baked or do-it-yourself pizzas.

The Toronto General Assembly recently closed a $13 million Series A funding round for what may be the first frozen “pizza subscription” for home delivery. The investment has enabled the pizza company to expand production to 10,000 pizzas per day by the third quarter of 2021.

“It’s almost a no-brainer”

Several Waterloo Region independent pizzerias have answered the call, selling pre-baked and frozen pizzas as part of their revenue stream.

Pete Tessaro, co-owner of These Pizza Guys in St. Jacobs, says his little shop has made about 5,000 frozen pizzas since the pandemic began, selling them to restaurants or other retailers.

“Our frozen pizzas are the same as the ones we sell in our store. We cook them to about 80 or 90% of their final doneness, cool them, freeze them and vacuum pack them,” says Tessaro.

Pete Tessaro holds two frozen pizzas from These Pizza Guys. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Their business model is popular across the country, according to Colleen Cross, editor of Canadian Pizza magazine. She says there’s more interest than ever in take-out and take-out foods, including pizza.

“I see when I talk to pizzerias that it’s almost a no-brainer that frozen is something they can get into as another revenue stream,” Cross says.

Gourmet quality

It also opened up opportunities for business alliances. Brady’s Meat and Deli in Waterloo offers a wide range of food and groceries from across the province and around the world. Brady’s now has a partnership with These Pizza Guys: Brady’s butcher supplies pizza makers with his special sausage, for example, and they put it on a frozen pizza, called “The Roberto”, which Brady’s will sell.

Specialty pizzas may be a bit more expensive, but they are “gourmet quality and well worth it”.

WATCH | Boom in frozen pizza sales during the pandemic:

Boom in frozen pizza sales during the pandemic

A look at why pizza consumption (and pizza making) has increased during the pandemic, pushing frozen pizza sales up 20% in March. 2:03

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

“Our freezer section with frozen pizzas is busy,” he says. “There’s more demand from customers and people are coming in and going straight there.”

The partnership has created unique – and sometimes quite playful – toppings like sausage poutine and even haggis.

“That one was for Robbie Burns Day. It sold out in two days,” Brady said.

From vegan pizza to jerk pizza

Nadia Dragusanu’s Crêperie Café du Monde has also stepped up the sale of frozen food due to demand during the pandemic. Its pizza line is frozen, including the popular gluten-free and plant-based pizzas.

“We’ve seen growth in frozen pizza sales during the pandemic,” Dragusanu said, adding that a portion of the sales of her goat cheese pizza goes to support Waterloo Region Women’s Crisis Services.

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

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

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

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

“He introduced me to the dough which is a two-day bulk cold fermentation,” Thomas said. “It was a very steep learning curve.”

He describes jerk pizza as Jamaica meets Italy.

“We’re taking a neo-neopolitan batter recipe and loading it with the best of jerk. It’s jerk chicken, jerk pork, a bit of ackee, saltfish and callaloo, which are more traditional Jamaican offerings “, said Thomas.

“I don’t see any downside”

Local pizza makers are delivering vibrant flavors, though the scale of production isn’t close to what supermarket frozen pizzas sell, but they’ve dramatically changed the landscape, according to Canadian Pizza’s Cross.

“I really can only watch it grow and I don’t mind,” Cross says.

“It may never happen on a large scale, but it’s just one of the many options pizza makers can offer their customers.”

Gladys T. Hensley