Alexia Pizza Snacks Make Pizza Rolls Upscale

Alexia Pizza Snacks make pizza rolls upscale and all natural ... but not truly healthful. Food Processing's Consumer Understanding Editors take a closer look at this new snack product.

By Hollis Ashman and Jacqueline Beckley, Consumer Understanding Editors

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Athenians and Romans were some of the first to serve small plates of finger foods at banquets. These were supposed to aid in digestion and enhance the bond or friendship at the beginning of the meal. That's a long way from today's pizza puffs, but what remains is sharing and exploring a small dish with friends.

Alexia Foods Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Pizza snacks not only can start the meal, but can be served at other times of the day. They're eaten by many teenagers as a snack that can deal with the hunger after a long day at school.

Pizza snacks are typically small bites of traditional flavors (pepperoni, cheese and tomato sauce) and are quick and easy to prepare (microwave). Served warm, they are sharable and filling.

Alexia Foods Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y., a privately held prepared foods company best known for Alexia frozen potatoes, thought the traditional pizza snack, while familiar, can be confining in its offerings. With many consumers wanting to recall or experience travel through food or wanting a more gourmet or healthier experience, there potentially is some vacant space in the category.

Understanding the marketplace

The frozen snack market has grown nearly 25 percent from 2000 to 2005 to a market size of about $2 billion, according to Research and Markets. This is still a small percent of the overall snack food market of $61 billion, according to MarketResearch.com.

The key brands within the frozen snack market are Nestle Hot Pockets with 28 percent of the category. Ruiz Foods' El Monterey brand has grown 73 percent over the past five years. The category includes players large and small: Amy's Kitchen, Cedarlane, Camino Real Foods, Chef America, ConAgra, General Mills/ Pillsbury (including Totino's), Heinz, Hormel, Kellogg, Luigino's, Pierre Foods, Pinnacle Foods, Sara Lee, Schwans, Simplot and White Castle.

Although there is a wide variety of products and competitors in this category, recent growth has been in stuffed sandwiches and Mexican and Asian cuisine, as well as some "better for you" products. This is a category that is not viewed as healthy. Using cuisine style and all natural ingredients/flavor as a means to signal "healthy" could allow a smaller company to stand out in the crowd.

Alexia Foods proclaims "100 percent all natural" on all its products because they don't need artificial flavors or preservatives. Many of the company's items are certified organic through Oregon Tilth. They emphasize the use of trans-free fats and healthy oils, such as olive and hi-oleic canola oils.

Plus, founder Alex Dzieduszycki was a New York chef who moved a small catering kitchen into the partnership that is Alexia Foods. So the insight of taking a frozen appetizer as ubiquitous as pizza snacks and creating two classic Italian style flavors (Pesto Chicken with Fresh Mozzarella as well as Sweet Italian Sausage with Roasted Peppers and Parmesan) makes a lot of sense.

Insights

Busy consumers (and who isn't?) lack time for meal preparation, so the trend toward eating more snack-type foods is obvious. Households in the U.S. are redefining what a snack or meal is and when that snack or meal is eaten. People are using snacks to provide a small meal that can be eaten on the go. However, at some point, most of these busy consumers begin to question what it is they are eating while on the go.

There are limited options for familiar snacks that fit their lifestyles, are satisfying, signal meal acceptability via real food elements and have a "healthy halo." The growth of a brand like Hot Pockets has been driven more by familiar flavor options than a health halo. Lean Pockets, with a definition of healthiness via lower fat, may not fit all family consumption. "All natural," while comforting to some, is recognized by many as a marketing term that has no real definition for consumers.

From our Healthy You!, It!s Convenient and Crave It! databases, we find the key attributes for convenient appetizers are: taste, appearance, aroma, easy to eat, ready to eat, portion size and flavor varieties. When asked to make trade off choices, consumers are looking for premiumness via similarity to sit-down restaurant cuisine, good for you, bite-size quick and fun, vitamins and minerals, all natural, tastes fresh, perfect to hold in one hand, sensory experience, and already prepared. Appetizers are consumed from lunch time to late evening or during TV viewing, with family or friends, alone and while playing on the computer for most Americans.

Key trends that impact this category are: convenience, flavors and healthfulness.

Convenience: Snack foods provide a quick bite.Through the warmth of the product and real food ingredients, they deal with hunger and can be eaten on the go. One concern is the impact of microwave heating on the overall flavor and texture of the snack.

Flavors: The category has grown via new flavors concentrating on Mexican and Asian. Consumers welcome cuisines such as American, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Cajun/Creole, according to our It!s Convenient study. The key is to provide a familiar cuisine style and yet deliver a unique flavor.

Healthfulness: While these products are viewed as healthier than shelf-stable snack foods, their fat and sodium levels can be high. These ingredients are part of what makes the food taste good and increases their satiety. So the real challenge is how to create a "healthy halo."

The experience

Alexia Pizza Snacks are not available in all food stores. Alexia is using specific retail outlets (in this case Whole Foods) to provide a signal to consumers that this is a healthy snack. The product we tested with consumers -- Pesto Chicken with Fresh Mozzarella -- is available in a 6-oz. box at $3.49-3.99.

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