Dr. Oetker Stories

Progress in frozen pizza development

We talk to Christian Fretter from our International Pizza Product Development department about what has changed in our pizza development over the years.

Progress in frozen pizza development

23.5.2024 Products and Services

Everything is in a constant state of flux – that also applies to frozen pizza. Dr. Oetker’s product development constantly observes nutrition habits, trends, and technological innovations. By means of new findings, recipes are tested again and again and – if necessary – carefully optimized. Christian Fretter, Executive Manager International Product Development Pizza, reports in an interview about the progress of over 50 years of frozen pizza. 

Portrait of Christian Fretter, Executive Manager for International Product Development Pizza

Christian, if somebody offered you a slice of the very first Dr. Oetker pizza - the Pizza alla Romana - would you take it?

Christian Fretter: Well of course I would take it! My curiosity alone, which drives me in product development, forces me to do it! But seriously: The taste would be surprising and not comparable to one of today’s frozen pizzas. The Pizza alla Romana from 1970 was generously topped with tomato, bell pepper, mortadella, as well as a cheese blend of mozzarella and provolone. The pizza had a rather thick dough and was supplied in an aluminum tray. That doesn’t really comply with our present idea of a pizza. What’s more, in terms of calories and salt content it would barely be comparable to a pizza of today. Nowadays nutritional values are much more relevant. Back then, they weren’t even specified on the packaging.

What would you and your team undertake first, if you could further develop this frozen pizza?

Christian Fretter: At first, we would dive into a deeper analysis of the pizza. For that we manufacture it after the original recipe and taste it with a team that is trained in sensory analysis and able to describe the product characteristics accurately. Our consumers’ well-balanced nutrition is very important to us –we want to contribute to that. That’s why the nutritional values are securely checked. For instance, we look into how plant proteins and fiber can positively contribute to their development and how we can reduce salt step by step. 

Christian Fretter working in product development for pizza at Dr.Oetker

Let’s stay with the topic of salt for now. What have we accomplished here already?

Christian Fretter: A lot! We have already improved numerous recipes, but also took a close look at individual commodities that we process in our pizzas, because there are many ways to reduce salt content. External partners are helping us with that. Looking at the numbers, our achievements become clear: In the span between 2007 and 2023, we have lowered the salt content stepwise from 1,59 g/100g to 1,09 g/100 g. By 2025, our pizzas will contain a sales-weighted average of no more than 1 g salt/100 g. A reduction beyond this wouldn’t be sensible, as salt – in addition to its taste – has other positive properties that we need for a pizza. Among other things, it benefits the pizza dough’s stretchability and helps to preserve raw ingredients like sausage or cheese. Alternatively, we would have to resort to additives. That is out of the question.

What is the situation regarding the topic of additives?

Christian Fretter: We use additives if they contribute to product safety or a longer shelf life, for example. Fundamentally, however, we want to keep our lists of ingredients as short as possible. Therefore, our principle is as follows: as few as possible, as many as necessary. For
instance, comparing our Pizza Tradizionale Margherita’s current list of ingredients with that of ten years ago, you can see that we have accomplished a lot here. Since 2016, emulsifiers, thickeners and acidity regulators have no longer been needed in the recipe for the base of the Tradizionale. Better technologies and further developed recipes will also help us to reduce additives in the future. 

Ingredient lists from 2014 and 2024, showing a major decrease in additives

2014 (top) vs. 2024 (bottom): The direct comparison of the Pizza Tradizionale Margherita’s ingredient lists shows that improved technologies and recipes lead to significantly shorter ingredient lists.

How is a frozen pizza different from a pizza baked in a pizzeria or at home?

Christian Fretter: If we look at the main steps involved in preparing a pizza, we can say that we don’t do anything different than the pizzaiolo or the hobby baker. Our dough is prepared and kneaded with the classic ingredients of flour, water, yeast, salt and sometimes a little sugar. After a resting period, we shape it, pre-bake it if necessary, and then top it. For this, we also make our own tomato sauce. Finally, the pizza is baked – depending on the type even on stone. This is how it works in a pizzeria or at home as well. Since we produce about 2.3 million pizzas a day in Germany alone, we naturally work with machinery and well-organized processes. The essential steps stay the same, though.

For you, what is the next goal in the pizza development?

Christian Fretter: The topic of sustainability is omnipresent and also in focus at Dr. Oetker. As part of our Sustainability Charter, we are continuously working on improving the nutritional properties of our products. The further development of our pizzas in terms of sustainability is therefore not a dream of the future, but a current task and also a challenge hat we are taking on with enthusiasm. Vegan options are of particular interest here, for instance, since they account for a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to products with meat or cheese toppings. In the coming years exciting innovations in vegan commodities or production methods are to be expected. And there will also be a lot happening in dough fermentation with flavoring. So the pizza development is guaranteed not to be boring.

Video: Product Development Pizza at Dr. Oetker