Quick way to make authentic pizza!

Article written by Sam Butler for Farm Week

Karen Boyd grew tired on selling pizzas and decided instead to start making her own, a decision which eventually led to a substantial deal with Tesco Northern Ireland. “I owned pizza shops in Comber and Killyleagh for over 20 years before deciding to start up my own small business,” she says. “Selling pizzas had become intensely competitive and very challenging business.”

Setting up a small enterprise making pizzas was a logical step for the Co. Down mother of one, Josh 18. That was in 2013. “I didn’t really want to get into the business of producing ready-to-cook pizzas in boxes because it’s also very competitive. It’s a market dominated by major players. I sought to use my experience in selling a wide range of pizzas to create something different but authentic. This led me to take a long hard look at the market to see if there was a gap that I could exploit and make a profit,” she adds.

KarenKaren came up with an idea to produce an innovative frozen kit that made it easier than ever for consumers to create a pizza and enjoy the whole process of doing so. “I reckoned the frozen kit would appeal in particular to children and teenagers interested in cooking and keen to create their own convenient meals. I believe that people want to cook again and are keen to know more about what they are eating, especially what their children are consuming, and those producing the food.”

She developed an initial kit comprising two dough balls with sachets of mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce and tested the concept on family and friends. The feedback was universally positive. “Everyone found the pizzas easy to make and very tasty,” she adds.

The dough balls are easily kneaded to make two 12 inch pizza bases, if required. Cheese, the sauce and other ingredients are added and the pizza popped into an oven for around 15 minutes. It’s then ready to eat. The re-sealable pack means one set of pizza ingredients can be kept in the fridge for use later.

“It’s not a microwaveable product,” she adds. “Only men ask if they can cook it in a microwave.”

The next stage for Karen was to seek advice from food experts in areas such as nutritional information and shelf life. Two innovation vouchers from Invest NI enabled Karen to access expert support from the technical team at Loughry Food Technology Centre, near Cookstown, part of the College of Food, Agriculture and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). CAFRE organised blind tastings and provided the expert advice she needed to push ahead with her business idea. “Loughry was tremendously supportive and helped me in the development of the pizza kits in so many ways.”

Gaining access to Invest NI’s successful Design Development Programme enabled Karen to work with the talented team at the Triplicate design studio in Belfast. They created the packaging and the Pizzado corporate identity to ensure the kits would capture the imagination of shoppers and encourage them to buy. “I wanted packaging that would be totally different from the usual pizza boxes. Together we came up with the type of pack that would stand out from the rest.”

Virtually all the Pizzado ingredients – flour and medium fat mozzarella cheese – are locally sourced. The frozen pizzas are gluten-free and available in cheese and tomato, pepperoni and garlic bread flavours. They are also low in sugar and have half the salt of other pizzas currently on the market.

Karen is also quick to acknowledge the advice and practical support for her fledgling enterprise from Denis Lynn, managing director of Lynn’s Country Foods in Downpatrick, a business best known for Finnebrogue venison and pork sausages for major retailers. “Denis was very helpful when I had an opportunity to talk to him about Pizzado. He has a wealth of experience and great contacts in the industry. He helped me to identify the right Tesco Northern Ireland buyer, which I did. The buyer was interested but didn’t place an order back then.”

What encouraged Tesco to place a substantial contract for Pizzado was the product’s success in the influential Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards in Dublin, an annual event that showcases new products to supermarkets and other major retailers, in 2014. Pizzado came out on top in the all-Ireland pizza category.

“Recognition in the quality awards was a fantastic endorsement of Pizzado’s quality and innovation and it caught the attention of a number of key buyers. Tesco NI followed up quickly and the subsequent discussions led to the contract to supply Northern Ireland’s biggest supermarket chain. That was in 2015.

“Winning the contract with Tesco was a tremendous boost. My target had always been to attract a leading supermarket because it’s the best channel for me. It’s the way to reach a substantial market quickly and cost effectively,” Karen says. “It’s probably the best way for a smaller company with limited financial and other resources to make an impact on the market. I am keen now to see Pizzado in the freezers of supermarkets in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.”