I read an interesting and highly informative article at http://www.bakingbusiness.com/news/headline_stories.asp?ArticleID=97887
(registration required) on how a Canadian company, DaVinci Food Products, is developing its pizza business. I have copied and pasted the article below:
DaVinci Food Products: Forging Ahead
Pizza entrepreneur DaVinci Food Products hitches its wagon to a star in the East, while adding capacity for growth in home markets.
(Bakingbusiness.com, November 01, 2008)
by Laurie Gorton
With loyal customers and popular, award-winning products, Michael Mazzaferro, the second-generation president of Da Vinci Food Products Ltd., Montreal, QC, might have been content to simply build on his company’s position as Canada’s biggest private-label pizza producer. But he has more ambitious objectives in mind and in sight.
His vision is why Da Vinci products were served at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. These pizzas represented no mere one-time product placement but the launch of a new venture: Beijing Italo Food Co., Ltd., acquired by Da Vinci within the past year.
What’s a Canadian pizza maker doing in China? In a word: growing.
"The North American pizza market is mature," Mr. Mazzaferro said, pegging industry sales at roughly C$40 billion. "Expansion domestically is challenging, so a company with growth aspirations needs to look outside its comfort zone, and China is definitely outside the comfort zone."
Da Vinci managers have been studying the Far East market for the past three years. "We loved what we saw," Mr. Mazzaferro said. Participation at regional food shows and a major market study backed up his impression. Although international markets currently account for about 5% of Da Vinci’s total volume, according to company estimates, that piece of the pie will increase substantially when the Beijing plant ramps up production later this year. While still in start-up, the business has already opened additional contacts in China and, more recently, Japan and Korea.
"Having Beijing as a platform, we can look at markets in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore and beyond," said Roger J. McGraw, executive business development, Asia. "The market need for quality products is already there. The potential is quite dramatic."
India and the Middle East also beckon. "These regions have carbohydrate-based staples in their diets — naan in India and pita in the Mideast," noted Franco Cammuso, managing director. "That makes for interesting markets for us."
"Pizza was born in Italy, but it grew up in North America, and now it’s traveling the world," stated family patriarch Frank Mazzaferro.
STAGING GROWTH. Da Vinci Food Products has also been busy in its home markets, increasing its domestic business at double-digit rates since 2004, according to Michael Mazzaferro. The company today is a C$40 million business, producing fresh and frozen topped pizzas, pizza crusts, calzones, pizza-related products and dough balls, along with a broad range of toppings including sauces, pepperoni, Italian sausage, deli meats and fresh-packed crushed tomatoes. Besides its international ventures, the Montreal plant supplies three-quarters of its output to domestic retail markets, 10% to club stores and 10% to food service.
In 2006, Da Vinci invested C$9 million in its future at home, renovating its 110,000-sq-ft facility to add a new European processing line, for which it had a 3-year North American exclusive on the technology. Within a year of the new line’s start-up, its calzones won a major award. The Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors recognized Da Vinci with a 2007 Canadian Grand Prix New Product Award for President’s Choice brand Stone-Baked Calzones among prepared food and entrees in the private-label category.
The 2006 plant expansion also tripled on-site freezer storage capacity to hold 3,500 pallets, primarily for frozen private-label products. "One new customer accounts for 15 frozen SKUs," Mr. Mazzaferro observed, noting that the extra freezer storage space was a timely addition. The freezers use ammonia refrigeration systems, so the plant’s existing ammonia system was also expanded.
Additional changes are coming, with a C$2 million capital expansion set for this year. That project will add a spiral freezer for topped pizzas and 5,000 sq ft to packaging operations for calzone and par-baked topped pizzas. "Acquisitions are also a possibility," Mr. Mazzaferro observed.
For a new take on today’s popular frozen pizza, Da Vinci sought an all-natural leavening system that did not require chemical leaveners yet would yield a light-textured crust. "This meant developing a new process," Mr. Mazzaferro said. The new European technology enabled this formulation change and allowed the company to stay true to its product goals.
"We never want to lose the rustic aspect of the product, which is such a part of Da Vinci," Mr. Mazzaferro said.
FAMILY PLAN. The love of pizza runs deep in the family. Mr. Mazzaferro’s grandfather Michelangelo, who was a blacksmith and ironworker (The family name literally means "hammer iron."), left Italy to escape WWII and settled in Montreal. Regularly on weekends, he took his family out to dinner at Montreal’s downtown pizza restaurants, which after the war began serving thin-crust New York-style pizza by the slice. Spotting a trend, Frank Mazzaferro and his three brothers bought one of those restaurants in 1960, renaming it King of the Pizza. He soon jumped on another trend, delivery. The business grew to include two more restaurant locations and 25 delivery cars.
Demand for delivered pizza overwhelmed the small restaurant kitchens, so the family bought a small bakery in the city’s Ville St. Laurent district and devoted it to crust production. In the 1970s, the company started to supply a major supermarket chain with tomato pizza, a thick, chewy, oblong crust covered with tomato sauce. Over the years, this simple product became a favorite among school children. "Tomato pizza put Da Vinci on the map as a seller of pizza," Michael Mazzaferro observed. The product continues its popular appeal, and the company sells more than 3,000 cases (30,000 units) weekly in Montreal alone.
In 1970, the family renamed its business Les Aliments Da Vinci Food Products Ltée. to conform to Quebec’s regulations that required corporate names to take bilingual form. "The family chose ‘Da Vinci’ because of the famous Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci," Mr. Mazzaferro said.
As the decade progressed, Da Vinci added more pizza varieties, including products for supermarket in-store preparation of fresh pizzas. Frozen, fully topped, ready-to-bake pizzas soon joined the product roster, as did par-baked crusts. The family acquired a small meatpacking facility, Les Aliments Martin, located in Montreal’s East End district, to make its own cooked salami, pepperoni and fresh sausage toppings.
In 1986, it bought one of its tomato suppliers, Hillside Canning at Leamington, ON, renaming it Jema International in honor of Mr. Mazzaferro’s grandmother, whose pizza recipe fueled the restaurants’ success. Fresh-packed crushed tomatoes and sauce joined the company product line. The seasonal operation packed 5,000 tonnes annually at the time the Mazzaferro family bought it. They added a new evaporation system to achieve higher quality and output, and today the facility has nearly tripled its output.
Demand for par-baked crusts strained the capacity of the crust operation in Ville St. Laurent, so production transferred to the Martin meat plant. Output rates rose to 1,500 pizzas per hour.
Continued success increased the pressure on the facilities, straining their capacities, and the family decided to bring all operations under one roof. The company merged its East End meat plant and Ville St. Laurent bakery into the site it now occupies southeast of downtown Montreal adjacent to the Canal de Lachine. The building, erected in 1975, formerly housed a large hotel laundry. Now it provided Da Vinci with much-needed space on its main floor and basement levels. The investment in the move totaled C$6 million.
By the end of the 1990s, the needs of the Mazzaferro family were changing. Mr. Mazzaferro and his wife Claudia, with his father Frank as a partner, bought out his three uncles to take over the business in March 2000. Now focused on private-label pizza production, Da Vinci continued to grow, becoming Canada’s largest such producer.
UNDER ONE ROOF. Roughly half of Da Vinci’s Montreal facility is devoted to processing, with 25,000 sq ft of warehouse and 15,000 sq ft of packaging area. The total site covers 130,000 sq ft (roughly 3 acres, or 1.2 ha) and occupies a full city block with the exception of a few residences at one end. The manufacturing plant employs approximately 150 people, of which a good 30% have been with the company for more than 10 years. Normal daily schedules assign two shifts to production and one to sanitation and maintenance.
"This is a unique plant because it encompasses baking, sauce-making and meat preparation," Mr. Mazzaferro stated.
The plant comes under regulatory oversight by Agriculture Canada’s Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) because it handles meat. To support the company’s export program, it put a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program in place. "And our own QA group goes above and beyond minimum requirements with its strong focus on quality and food safety," Mr. McGraw said. "We take this very seriously, and we learn things every week that improve quality."
All ingredients are inspected on delivery, and it also audits all ingredient suppliers’ facilities, according to Mr. Cammuso. "We have to know where our ingredients come from," he explained. "Many of these ingredients are pre-assembled by the supplier, but if there is a problem, the regulatory focus will be on Da Vinci Food."
Mills deliver flour by tanker truck directly into Da Vinci’s two Semco flour system storage silos to supply the plant’s weekly usage requirement totaling 150,000 kg (330,750 lb). High-protein flour arrives in 1,000-kg (2,200-lb) totes. The mezzanine level of the building houses two 10,000-kg (22,000-lb) tanks that contain canola oil.
The plant’s bakery section consists of three lines: two fully automated — one for rustic/low-stress products and one for stone-baked items — and a third for assembly and freezing of topped pizzas. When the newest automated line feeds crusts to calzone production, the result is 3,500 8- to 9-oz calzones per hour. The more manual line making tomato pizza and rustic products can output 1,500 to 3,500 crusts per hour, depending on crust size.
Products vary in diameter from 5 to 18 in. and also include focaccia, ciabatta and calzone items. This broad range led Mr. Mazzaferro to estimate total plant output to reach 7,000 crusts per hour and, sometimes, 9,000 per hour.
The newest automated line carries on the family’s preference for leading-edge processing equipment. "In the early 1970s, my grandfather bought a Baker Perkins 60-ft double-deck, direct-fired tunnel oven for par-baking pizza crust," Mr. Mazzaferro recalled. "The crust was a great success, and so was the oven." This oven remains in use, baking tomato pizzas in 11 minutes.
The stone-hearth oven was another visionary choice, according to Mr. Mazzaferro, enabling entry into new stone-baked product categories. "My father purchased this oven 10 years ago," he recalled. Built by Picard, a local Quebec-based manufacturer, it was modified to fit the bakery’s needs by Jacques Gagnon, Da Vinci’s chief engineer, to speed par-baking and to update the controls. Mr. Gagnon also invented the company’s proprietary sauce, pesto and ricotta topping machines.
Additionally, the plant turned to spiral conveyor systems for proofing, cooling and/or freezing its products. The company installed I.J. White and Northfield systems to manage such operations and is about to install another spiral conveyor system to function as a mechanical blast freezer. It will replace the cryogenic freezer now used for topped pizzas made with par-baked crusts.
NEXT STEP. As Da Vinci moved into the 21st century, managers knew more capacity would be required to keep up with customer demand. Also, they found product development — and consumer tastes — headed in a new direction that favored the company’s legacy of rustic products. The new products called for high-absorption doughs, easy to manage using manual methods typical of restaurant settings but difficult to process on the high-speed machinery necessary for the output volumes envisioned.
Low-stress makeup techniques can handle such doughs, but the company also wanted micro-environment control over intermediate proofing conditions and more baking time for the finished crusts and topped pizzas. Also, any equipment chosen had to fit the dough-ball method preferred by the company. Such needs dictated terms in the search for technology.
"We took our time when selecting technology for the new line," Mr. Cammuso said. Managers researched equipment options in North America, Italy, Japan and Germany. Most important, according to Mr. Cammuso, were: 1 — quality of the finished product, 2 — flexibility on size and type because product lines must changeover within a few minutes and 3 — reliability and service commitment from the supplier. They settled on a European manufacturer, and the line was custom-built for Da Vinci to handle dough balls up to 1 kg (2.2 lb).
On this line, a Werner & Pfleiderer 150D spiral mixer, supplied by Gemini Bakery Equipment, prepares dough in batches sized for up to 5,000 9-in. crusts per hour. The mixer chunks the dough onto a conveyor leading to a divider/rounder that portions individual dough balls. A dough ball positioner system places each piece in correct alignment for entry into the proofing cell system.
Released from the intermediate proofer, dough balls run through either sheeting rollers or an AM Industries 4-up heat press. (Later this year, Da Vinci plans to install an AM 12-up press to increase line output.) The flattened crusts proceed to the new line’s oven or can be sent to the hand-forming operation to be made up as calzones or other items. The line includes optional deposition of cornmeal for bottoming the crusts. "When the new press is installed, there won’t be another line like this in North America," Mr. Mazzaferro stated.
When making calzones, the downstairs kitchen and prep rooms supply sauces and toppings, which are hand applied to the flattened crusts. Hand-crimping follows before the calzones reach the stone-hearth oven, heated to 500°F (260°C). The par-baked calzones move to the freezer immediately after baking. It takes 30 people to accomplish manual makeup of this product. Tastings of the new calzone items excited customers so much that Da Vinci went all-out to get production started. "We trained this crew in 24 hours, enlisting my dad, my mother and my sister in the effort," Mr. Mazzaferro recalled.
DOUGH BALLS. Da Vinci uses sponge-and-dough methods for all its doughs, which number more than 90 and include white, whole-wheat, gluten-free and organic styles. In the dough preparation area for the plant’s other processing lines, ETMW horizontal mixers supply an AMF rotary dough divider as well as piston dividers, thus allowing the choice of divider to match specific product needs. The company plans to install a new mixer, divider and makeup line in coming months and is currently evaluating vendors.
By management preference, the company uses the dough-ball method rather than sheeting and die-cutting for shaping its pizza crusts. Dough balls generate no scrap, so all pieces are strictly "fresh," according to Mr. Mazzaferro. The dough balls are flattened right after exiting the intermediate proofer. The first press is followed by a resting period and a second proof, this time in a spiral system held at 105°F (65°C) at 70% relative humidity. To form crusts, the dough balls are flattened a second time, either heat-pressed directly on the pan or cold-pressed with a hand-stretch before panning.
The lower level of the Montreal facility houses prep facilities for sauce, meat, cheese and vegetable toppings plus a makeup line that transforms frozen par-baked crusts into topped pizzas, which then go through another freezing stage before being packaged. The QA lab is also located on this level.
Da Vinci prepares all its sauces on a custom basis, and the 50-plus recipes all have code names to preserve client confidentiality for its many private-label customers. Most sauces start with Jema fresh-packed crushed tomatoes, supplied bag-in-box in recyclable corrugated cartons. Spices for sauces and meat preparations are assembled in "kits" by ingredient suppliers according to Da Vinci Food’s specs, thus simplifying formulation and assuring freshness.
"Our ‘pizza room’ is where the action is!" Mr. Mazzaferro said. The pizzas being made during Baking & Snack’s visit started with the company’s self-rising crust, which had been hot-pressed and frozen for a minimum of 24 hours. The still-frozen crusts are placed on the assembly line to be topped with sauce, cheese dispensed from a Raque applicator and pepperoni slices supplied by two Pep-A-Matic units. Each topped crust passes over a checkweigher that verifies its weight before sending it into the cryogenic freezer.
"We will be working around the clock here for the next three months," Mr. Mazzaferro explained. This schedule will allow the busy line to shut down for installation of new topping equipment and a new spiral freezer. "Our intent with the improvements is to double the speed of the line," he added.
FLEXIBLE FUTURE. "Our big strength is our flexibility," Mr. Mazzaferro stated. The company recently proved its mettle in turning out 700,000 crusts in just two weeks for a large private-label customer. "We like doing these sorts of promotions because it keeps our lines in full operation, thus improving readiness for regular customer orders, too," he explained.
Plant flexibility permits daily production of as many as 10 different products in multiple varieties. "This alone distinguishes us from our competitors," Mr. Mazzaferro observed.
"There are other plants that may be more efficient," Mr. McGraw said, "but our niche is flexibility."
"As much as possible, we keep our products visually and taste-wise to our standard for a rustic product," Mr. Cammuso noted. "It’s a challenge."
"Consider the calzones," Mr. Mazzaferro explained. "We chose to do them by hand, and we get a beautiful product. We are happy with the results."
Flexibility also means strong emphasis on new product development. Recent product innovations included a new item for the grab-and-go market. This single-serve product uses a hand-stretched crust base topped with ingredients that range from breakfast ham and sausage, pesto vegetable, cheeseburger, barbecue chicken to "all dressed" (pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese). The crust is folded to cover the toppings and par-baked on a stone-hearth oven before being frozen and packaged two to the retail box. It can then be finished by heating in a microwave or conventional oven or by grilling.
Chicago-style deep dish pizza, topped pizzas inspired by the regional flavors of Italy and a line of premier Northern Italian flavor offerings have also been introduced recently. Da Vinci is proud to be a supplier of President’s Choice Blue Menu, Loblaw’s health-and-wellness private-label line of prepared foods. The line contains no trans fats and includes foods that are low in fat, calories and sodium, and high in fiber, omega-3s and soy.
Mr. Mazzaferro described the collaboration between Da Vinci and its customers’ staff by stating, "We get to work with the best product developers in North America".
"Our strength is that we can tailor-make products to the customer’s specifications," he continued, "and we have become very innovative in product variety and output, doing everything from 5-in. pizzas to hand-stretched crusts to filled calzones, and the sky’s the limit in terms of toppings. I’ve seen many pizza plants in Europe and North America, and what we do here is unusual. It’s the best set-up I’ve seen."