India is Loving Pizzas

Pizza, which can have its toppings with a plethora of ingredients, often induces you to over indulge. This foreign fast food product has over the years, become quite popular in India. Over the years, pizzas have endeared themselves with the young and the old of India. The result is that the pizza market in India is currently experiencing a boom.

Ashok Malkani finds that pizza, which has been denigrated by health fanatics as an unwholesome consumer product, can, in reality, be nourishing and wholesome. The pizza outlets having different types of pizzas and baking methods are adapting themselves successfully to the new-age consumer trends. 

Mmmm….do you smell that delicious aroma of the fresh-out-of-the-oven, teaming rotund scrumptious dish, waiting to be devoured?  Your senses are overtaken by the aroma of hot bread, melted cheese, simmering sauce, spicy garlic, sizzling chicken and you can’t wait to devour the delicacy. What are we talking about? Pizza, of course!  The popularity of pizza across the globe cannot be overstated. It is among the favourite fast food products of the world. Not only it is sumptuous, but can also be rich in terms of nutritional value. Thus though pizza can be clubbed under fast food, but with its cheese, and nutritional vegetable/non-vegetarian toppings, the baked flat bread is far from being a junk food. It is filling, it is tasty, and it can be healthy to eat at the same time. To top it all, once you know the know-how, pizzas are simple to create also. Pizza has the ability to make everything better. Well…at least many things. Pizza is an integral part of world’s fast food culture. To this writer, it is also a stress buster. In fact, the popularity of pizza is a global phenomenon. A look at the global pizza market, which stands at 128 billion USD, would convince you about the popularity of this sumptuous treat.

A Thriving Market

In India also, the aroma of freshly baked pizza can increase the queues to the outlets. Experimenting with the taste buds has always been the mantra of food lovers in India. With increasing disposable incomes during the recent years, along with greater propensity to spend, and with greater exposure to global food & beverage trends, the post-modern twenty-first century India is now eager for pizza.

The pizza boom in India is also being driven by a surge in consumerism, by the increase in the number of nuclear families and working women in post-modern India during the recent years, and by a greater accessibility of QSR outlets in urban India, than a decade ago.

According to RNCOS Business Consultancy Services, the demand for various fast food items is consistently rising in India. The most delectable of them all is pizza, which has now emerged as one of the most favourite fast food items for the Indians, especially of the young generation. 

According to the Pizza Power 2013 State of Industry Report, the US, Brazil, Russia, India, and China are seen as emerging pizza markets in the world. The pizza market in India is worth over Rs. 1500 crores and has been growing at a consumer annual growth rate of 26 percent, for the last five years.

The development of the present day promising pizza market in India over the last two decades has had the contribution of both international and Indian pizza companies. The organised pizza market in India is dominated by players like Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Smokin’ Joe’s and others. With several international and local chains operating in the buoyant Indian market, the demand for pizzas is on the rise, in spite of the recent events like demonetisation and GST, which, many claim, has adversely affected the business climate in India, in general.  

According to Saloni Nangia, the President of retail consultancy Technopak, over the last two decades both international as well as Indian pizza companies had contributed to Indians developing a taste for this dish.

India’s pizza market is big enough to have the potential for lots of international QSR chains and as well as local brands to operate within their respective niches. In fact, India’s pizza market could present a huge opportunity for pizza chains as the penetration of pizza consumption in India is still less, as compared to the developed countries, though it presents an impressive potential.

Pizza History

The history of pizza is perhaps as appealing as its tastes. There is a belief that modern pizzas as we know it, originated in Naples, Italy during the late 18th or early 19th century, though the legacy of pizzas could be traced to the ancient Greek and Persian times.

It would surprise many to know that pizzas didn’t originate in Italy as is commonly believed. There are evidences of early Greeks conceiving a wholesome food, which appeared somewhat like a modern day pizza. One can find a connection between modern pizzas to the pita breads of Greece. They used to bake large, round and flat breads, and used to anoint them with oil, herbs, spices and dates. These flat breads were known as plakous by the ancient Greeks, and they were being flavoured with onion, herbs and garlic toppings. Many believe that the Greeks laid the foundations of today’s pizza.

But we can’t be very sure of that claim too, for there are historical evidences of soldiers of the Persian king, Darius the Great (521-486 B.C.) baking flat breads upon their shields and then covering it with cheese and dates. In fact, the records of people adding other ingredients on the breads to add to their flavour can be found throughout ancient history. And pizza, despite all its fancy notions, is at its most basic form, is nothing but a baked bread with multiple toppings.

Coming to modern pizzas, the Naples city was founded in 600 BC as a Greek settlement. Naples was teeming with poor workers during the 1700s and 1800s. For this working class of population, pizza was a nutritious, tasty, filling and affordable food. Flatbreads with various toppings were sold by street vendors and at informal restaurants of Naples then.

These early pizzas, featuring garnishes like tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies and garlic, were consumed by Naples’ poor. Italy unified in 1861 and King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited the palace of Naples in 1889. It is believed that after they became bored of having normal French haute cuisine day after day, they ordered for an assortment of pizzas. This could be the beginning of an Italy-wide pizza craze.

The Italian immigrants brought pizza to the United States in the late nineteenth century,[Soon  immigrants from Naples were replicating their crusty pizzas in New York and other American cities, including Trenton, New Haven, Boston, Chicago and St. Louis. It wasn’t long before the flavours and aromas of pizza began to intrigue non-Neapolitans and non-Italians too.

The first pizzeria in the United States — G. Lombardi’s — was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi in New York and it is open to this day using its original oven, although it has changed its location. 

Methods of Baking

Whatever may be the origin of this Italian ‘pie’ (which could have been derived from Greek pita bread) today this delicacy has acquired unique cooking methods. You have oven baked, pan-based and deep dish pizzas available in India. 

The oven baked pizzas are the most commonly available pizzas in India. The basic method to cook this is to bake it with the required base, cheese and toppings for about 15 minutes.

Then there are pan-based pizzas where you cook the dough in a pan with oil and then top it with cheese, sauce and toppings and then cook it either in a pre-heated oven or on a pan covered with a lid.

The deep dish pizzas are unique due to their unconventional method. In this pizza the crust is not very thick. In this method of cooking there are multiple layers of cheese. You place the sauce on top of the cheese and other toppings to prevent the top layer of cheese from burning due to overheating. In this pizza preparation, it is required to cook the toppings.

You also have the thin crust pizzas and wood fired pizzas where you place the pizza dough topped with sauce, cheese and other toppings next to a wood fired oven. They have a unique taste due to this cooking method.

Types of Pizza

As far as the types of pizzas are concerned, besides the Neopolitan, you have Chicago, New York, Sicilian, Greek, Californian types of pizza, which are popular.

 The original Neapolitan pizza dates all the way back to the 18th century or the early 19th century Naples, Italy.  Today there are three official variants of Neapolitan pizza:

Pizza Marinara: It features tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil.

Pizza Margherita: It features tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

Pizza Margherita Extra: It features tomatoes, mozzarella from Campania, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

 Since Neapolitan pizza is thin, it isn’t designed to handle the weight of too many toppings. So here toppings comprise mostly of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil leaves, oregano and olive oil.

The Chicago pizza, commonly known as deep-dish pizza, has a thick crust, unlike the original Neapolitan pizza. The Chicago pizza has raised edges, similar to that of a pie. It has slices of mozzarella lining the dough followed by meat, vegetables, and then topped with a can of crushed tomatoes.   

The New York style pizza has become popular in the US. Like Neapolitan one, it has a thin crust but the mineral water used for the dough makes it stand out. Though this pizza can have any topping, it normally has condiments like oregano, red pepper flakes, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder. 

Sicilian pizza, also known as sfincione, is a square cut from a thick crust pizza, having a spongier consistency than other pizzas. It is typically topped with tomato sauce, onions, herbs, anchovies, and then covered with bread crumbs.

The Greek pizza has nothing to do with Greek toppings, nor was it invented in Greece. It was created by Greek immigrants who came to the US and were introduced to Italian pizza. Though its crust is puffier and chewier than thin crust pizzas, it is not quite as thick as a deep-dish or Sicilian crust. Though you can have any topping you like with Greek pizzas, it normally uses a tangy tomato paste that has a strong oregano flavour and is topped with a blend of mozzarella and cheddar cheese.

California pizza, also known as gourmet pizza, is renowned for its unusual ingredients. It does not have any such thing as traditional toppings. It allows one the opportunity to get inventive and even has the option for tomato sauce to be replaced with barbecue sauce.   

Healthy Pizza

It may be mentioned that whether gluten-free or not, pizzas, according to health experts, are considered to be healthy due to various reasons. According to health professionals, pizzas are beneficial due to the following reasons:  

Pizza Sauce Can Boost Your Immunity:

This pizza sauce is teeming with vitamin C, which fights against germs of diseases like common cold. If oregano is included in the sauce, it will increase your immunity even more. Carvacrol, the active ingredient in oregano, can help keep your liver healthy and balance your blood sugar.

Spruced with Nutrition:

How healthy your pizza will be would depend on the type of pizza you are ordering or having at a restaurant. If you have the option of selecting the ingredients for pizza toppings as well as the base (thin crust or thick) you could make the pizza as healthy as you desire. 

Take one with thin crust to decrease intake of carbs. With one pizza, you can include vegetables, fruits, lean meats, dairy, and grain at the same time. You can add tomatoes to increase your fruit intake, and red peppers or mushrooms to add more vegetables to your diet.  

Brain Booster:

Spinach, often a chosen ingredient as a pizza topping, is high in folate. This promotes blood circulation in your brain. Consuming one daily serving of spinach can slow down cognitive decline in the elderly because it also contains vitamin K. This food can also affect your serotonin levels, which directly influence positive and negative emotions. Pineapple, spinach, and the milk found in cheese are all serotonin boosters, which means that pizza can help you to be healthy.

Catering to Indian Tastes

In post-modern urban India, the average taste profile of a restaurant goer embraces global choices, but often with distinctive local touch and with cultural restrictions. It doesn’t deserve a mention that the foreign players need to tailor their pizzas to the Indian tastes and religious sentiments if they want to thrive in the Indian market. Both Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut; the two multinational QSR giants who are also important players in India’s pizza segment, have a number of pizzas in their repertoire, which are tailored to suit the Indian palates. 

Domino’s Peppy Paneer Pizza, Deluxe Veggie Pizza, and Chicken Tikka Pizza, whereas Pizza Hut’s Tandoori Paneer Pizza and Keema Masala Pizza are only some examples to substantiate this point. As the pizza market matures in India, we can expect to have more and more pizzas catering to not only general Indian palates but to the local palates where the outlet/s are stationed in.

Given the high numbers of vegetarian population in India, vegetarian pizzas are highly popular in India. And given the rising health consciousness in urban India, vegan and gluten-free pizzas are also expected to have their market in the country.

In as early as 2012, Domino’s announced that customers could purchase gluten-free crust. Though people did not take notice then, today ‘gluten-free’ has taken on a new meaning since then.   In January 2015, Pizza Hut offered gluten-free menu options.

Take-away and Home Delivery

Another trend that is pervading through the Indian pizza market is the take away and home delivery system.  Many of the pizza chains operating in India assure you of delivery in 30 minutes. This has resulted in a jump in digital orders for most of the pizza brands in India.

 Jubilant FoodWorks, the company which operates Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts in India, reported that online ordering contributed to 51 percent of the delivery sales for the quarter ended 31st March 2017.

Yum! Brands Inc., the fast food company that owns Pizza Hut, said its system sales in India grew by 8 percent for Pizza Hut, in quarter ending 30th June 2017. Pizza Hut boasts of  home delivery in 30 minutes or you get the pizza free.

Home delivery is done by almost all pizza outlets. And now the latest news is that attempts are being made to have the pizza delivery done by drone. In Mumbai, couple of years ago, a city-based pizza outlet employed an unmanned drone to execute a pizza delivery by taking the aerial route. This is unique to India. But this experiment hasn’t become the normal mode of delivery as legal formalities like permission from civil aviation authorities are necessary. 

One can say the impetus in online sales of pizzas would boost the pizza market in India as there are many who want to have their pizza without wasting time in traffic snarls.

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