Web Exclusive | April 2013 | By Tara Zirker

Pizza Gets Tough

NRA launches Pizzeria Industry Council to give pizzeria operators a boost.

When the menu-labeling mandate, which requires calorie counts be posted on menuboards at chains with more than 20 units, passed with health-care reform in 2010, it was praised as a big step toward educating consumers on nutrition. The pizza industry, however, is still fighting back against what it sees as an unfair mandate that will be overly burdensome for pizzeria operators who have highly customizable menu options.

To help tackle legislative issues like the menu-labeling mandate, as well as to offer educational materials that will benefit restaurateurs across the segment, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) recently launched its Pizzeria Industry Council.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring together operators from one of the largest food-industry segments,” says James Balda, senior vice president of innovation and business development for the NRA. “The pizza industry is unique in its needs and challenges, and the council aims to improve the segment.”

The steering committee is comprised of 17 members and ranges from single-unit operators to franchise presidents with hundreds of locations. Members include Louis Basile, CEO of Wildflower Bread Company; Geoff Goodman, vice president of national brand excellence at CiCi’s Pizza; and Don Vlcek, vice president of purchasing at Marco’s Pizza.

“Our council is made up just like our menus: with operators from small, medium, large, and extra-large companies,” says Marla Topliff, committee member and president of Rosati’s Pizza.

The council’s first priority is to educate operators new and old on legislative issues—in particular, menu labeling and commodity prices.

With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developing the new federal standards that were approved under health-care reform—including which information needs to be included and how it should be presented—the council and the NRA at large are addressing the proposed rules and regulations.

“The pizza industry is unique in its needs and challenges, and the council aims to improve the segment.”

“We advocate for flexibility on the presentation of nutritional information,” says Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs for the NRA. “The goal is to get nutrition information to consumers, not to be overly prescriptive about font size and colors. We urged the FDA to be less detailed about how to present the information so that businesses can be consistent with their concept.”

Next up on the list of legislative concerns for the pizzeria industry is the Farm Bill, including how dairy commodities will affect the bottom line for pizza making. Changes to the dairy management program will be of critical interest to the council.

“We think that more competition with a stronger market approach will drive down prices,” DeFife says.

There is hope that the council might eventually begin a cooperative purchasing arm in order to help smaller pizzeria operators share in the benefits of higher volume buying than they could otherwise afford, Topliff says.  

The Pizza Industry Council will also heavily focus on education. That will include training operators on successfully managing their businesses and training employees to more successfully integrate into foodservice management careers.

“Staffing is a huge challenge because we depend on young people entering this industry that hope to build a career here. We want to hire kids that are excited about being in the business,” Topliff says. She says she’s enthusiastic about the NRA’s ProStart program, which gives high school students early training in building a successful restaurant career. The hope is that as more students go through the ProStart program, more will stay in the industry and evolve into management positions, she says.

Educating operators is equally important, Balda says.

“Those who start their own restaurants will often times start a pizzeria, and we want to educate those operators on how to better run a better business,” he says.

The council will develop training programs on everything from staffing and management to inventory and acquisitions. A special section on the NRA’s website devoted to the council will soon roll out, charting its progress and ways operators can connect. There are plans for an interactive element such as a listserv or online forum.

All of these new resources from the Pizza Industry Council should help protect the interests of one of the restaurant industry’s strongest categories.

“Pizzerias are one of the more innovative segments of the industry because there’s so much to do,” Balda says.