Authenticity Case Study: Frozen Pizza Category

Totino'sI’ve always loved the frozen pizza category as a consumer and one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had was managing and marketing the Totino’s pizza brand for General Mills.  It’s just fun to walk around all day talking about (and tasting) pizza, and with Totino’s you also get to say “party” a lot because of the ‘Party Pizza’ sub-brand.  What more can you ask for in a job?

Thus I thought I would follow up on my previous blog post where I outlined my take on what makes an authentic brand with a case study from the frozen pizza category where some brands are attempting to market around authenticity.  As you may recall my “4 P’s of Authenticity Marketing” were a sense of Place, a Passion, a Product to match, and don’t be a Poseur.  Let’s see how two frozen pizza brands, Palermo’s and 7th Street, stack up against the 4 P’s.

Category & Brand Background

The frozen pizza category hovers around $4 billion in sales annually and has a greater than 70% penetration rate.  It’s one of the largest packaged food categories in the store only trailing jumbo categories such as cereal, salty snacks and beverages.  Both of the pizzas we will discuss are in the ‘Premium’ segment of the category with retail non-sale prices generally above $7.

Palermo's logoPalermo’s Pizza is a private company headquartered in Milwaukee, WI that manufactures and sells under their own Palermo brand as well as being a producer of store brands.  Sales have historically been focused in the Midwest but in the last several years they have expanded to other parts of the country.

7th Street Pizza logo7th Street Pizza is a recent upstart that is headquartered in Northeast Minneapolis and sells locally in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.  As a newer and smaller brand it perhaps shouldn’t be held to as high of a marketing standard, but it will present a nice point of comparison to Palermo’s.

Authenticity Criteria

Palermo back panel history1. A Sense of Place – Palermo’s does a nice job of documenting their heritage in Sicily and the Palermo family’s move to Milwaukee where they opened up a bakery and restaurant.  They communicate this via their back-panel and website.  There is one TV advertisement and a series of promotional videos on the web that make reference to family and a pizzeria but they don’t get into detail and focus primarily on product variety and consumer interest (lots of good old ‘bite and smile’ visuals).

7th Street place7th Street would seem to be an ideal name to communicate a sense of place, but there is no explanation of where that is or what significance it has on the packaging.  With no website to be found, I went to the facebook page which shows their actual address to be on Marshall Street and not 7th.  I would love for them to tell me about 7th Street; was there a famous or favorite pizza shop on a 7th Street somewhere that gave them the inspiration?


Palermo's old world recipes2. A Passion – Palermo’s does a great job of leveraging the story of the Palermo family and stories of Papa Palermo aka Gaspare Fallucca along with talk of ‘Old World Family Recipes’ from Sicily and the family’s passion for great pizza.  They are consistent with this story across packaging, website and social media. The lone TV commercial that I could find gives a voiceover nod to their pizzeria restaurant beginnings but doesn’t get into any detail and visually focuses more on the variety of flavors. Hard choices always have to be made for a 30 second ad but I would love to see them be consistent with their other marketing and tell the story of Gaspare from Sicily as a way to introduce their brand on TV. Once that authenticity marker has been laid down, later spots can then focus on product variety.

7th Street package7th Street tantalizes us with the phrase “…before pizza became trendy” on the packaging.  This seems like a good starting point for passion and makes me want to know more.  It speaks to being old-fashioned, perhaps with a passion to strip away the frills of the modern frozen pizza and just get back to the simple things that make a pie great.  But alas I can’t find any follow-up here other than the phrase, “what everybody loves about their local pizza shop” on a facebook sub-page.  They planted this acorn of ‘non-trendy pizza’ and I would love to see it grow.

Palermo crust3. A Product to Match – I purchased the Palermo hand-tossed pizza and they do a good job of describing the product benefits on the package, speaking to “a pizzeria crust that’s crispy on the outside but chewy in the middle”.  Frozen pizza crust has a fairly low standard because frozen bread will never be as good as a crust baked from fresh dough, but this crust does seem to trend toward its description.  It was crispy and you can see the nice bread-like texture with air pockets in the crust profile.  Toppings are appropriate for a frozen pizza in this price range but the crust is a marketable point of difference.

7th Street product7th Street is the opposite of Palermo’s in that the crust is fairly standard frozen fare but what sets them apart are the toppings.  This pizza is absolutely loaded with toppings and cheese and thus lives up to their “local pizza shop” positioning in that regard.  The sauce also has a little kick to it which adds to the pizza shop flair, as do the green olives on the ‘Special’ variety that are rarely seen on a frozen pizza.  Beyond that, the minimalist packaging with clear over-wrap does a great job saying that they are spending money on the product not the package, and that their pizza is so good they want you to see what it really looks like and not some glamour photo shot on a box cover.

Palermo's package4. Don’t be a Poseur – For all the good that Palermo’s does with the old-world imagery and romance copy on their packaging, they put a dollop of modern-day marketing cheese right in the middle of it.  As you can see from the pic here they are running a “WIN $100,000” promotion that to me both detracts from the aesthetics of their packaging and also detracts from their authenticity.  Cash giveaways are no doubt popular with consumers and they are the easiest giveaways to run so you can’t say it’s a bad idea, but it just isn’t fitting with this brand’s positioning.  If they must run a promotional giveaway, how about a VIP trip to Sicily to meet and cook with a famous chef?  That might fit the positioning and storyline better.

7th Street package 27th Street doesn’t really do anything to detract from their authentic positioning, but with what I’m guessing is a minimal marketing budget there is little opportunity to get too slick.  As they grow their business and their marketing the key will be to retain the “we only care about the pizza” attitude that is reflected by their packaging and what little romance copy I could find.

In summary, the larger Palermo brand is doing a nice job in terms of communicating place and passion with a product point of difference (the crust) that seems to back it up to some degree.  The opportunity for this brand is to stay consistent with that theme as they move into larger-budget marketing like TV advertising and away from the temptation of promotional gimmickry that doesn’t fit the theme

The smaller 7th Street brand has something to build on with their old-school minimalist look and slogan and their impressive quality and volume of toppings.  There is a big opportunity is to flesh out the storyline of the brand and communicate it across all marketing vehicles, even if it’s just social media to start.

Williams Food Marketing | Minneapolis, MN, USA |
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