China: the new frontier for Italian pizza

Online sales have been so successful that Roncadin has decided to open a branded store in a Shanghai business centre
China: the new frontier for Italian pizza

For many years deep-pan American-style pizza has been the only option on the Chinese market. Times are changing and the number of Italian restaurants serving traditional thin-based pizzas is growing. Whilst consumer demand is high, so are the prices. Make room then for Roncadin, the frozen pizza specialists from the Friuli region of Northeast Italy. The company recently launched in China, allowing consumers to purchase an authentic product at a more affordable price, with the added bonus of being able to enjoy a real Italian pizza in the comfort of their own home. Online sales have been so successful that Italian entrepreneur Dario Roncadin has decided to expand further and open a branded sales outlet in a Shanghai business centre.

In 2013 Roncadin became the first manufacturer of frozen Italian pizza to export under its own brand into China. The majority of sales were via the largest Chinese e-commerce site, part of the Alibaba group. In light of this success, the Chinese importer suggested they open a sales outlet in Shanghai, selling only Roncadin branded products.

China has enormous potential as an end market for Italian-style pizza, as consumer demand for fine foods and Italian cuisine is increasing rapidly.

“The Chinese love anything made in Italy, because they associate it with the idea of quality”. Dario Roncadin, ceo of Roncadin confirms. “The level of care and attention we put into both the preparation of our pizza and sourcing the best ingredients, is the key to our success in Italy and overseas. Our pizza dough is allowed to rise naturally, which takes anything from 5 to 24 hours. The pizzas are only ever hand topped and cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven. We also have our own patented “hot pressing” system that makes our frozen pizza entirely unique. Using this method, the dough is not stretched (as it would be under standard manufacturing conditions) but divided into small balls. Then, our patented hot dough press creates individual pizza bases that are much thinner than other pre-packaged frozen pizzas”.

In order to for their product to work on the Chinese market, Roncadin also had to make some bespoke changes, above all in terms of the way it would be cooked in the home. “One problem we had to overcome is the fact that Chinese people don’t tend to use or even possess an oven at home”. Roncadin explains. “Therefore we adapted the product to be cooked in a frying pan instead, without compromising on taste or texture.”

The new cooking instructions tell the consumer to place the frozen pizza in a frying pan, cover it and cook on a low heat for eight to ten minutes.

The idea turned out to be such a hit that Roncadin’s commercial partner in China wanted to open a chain of branded stores. The first Roncadin pizza outlet opened its shutters in June, in the Zhong Rong Jasper Tower in Shanghai’s business district. It is already proving so popular that plans are underway to open another outlet soon. “The concept is a high-end food kiosk, where pizzas are cooked and served to order, but also sold packaged to be enjoyed at home.” Dario Roncadin continues. “The customer can opt to have their pizza cooked for them and eat it there and then, or choose a pre-packed pizza they can then cook at home. We provide our clients with detailed cooking instructions so they can really enjoy their pizza at its best”.

In addition to the lack of ovens in Chinese homes, there were some other important factors to consider before bringing the product to the Chinese market. “In China, pizza is not usually considered a meal in itself, but rather a snack or starter. For this reason each pizza is shared between several people, eaten as an entrée to a rice dish or other traditional meals. Sometimes it may even be served as a side dish to accompany pasta or other Western-style main courses. Our best-selling products in China are la Vegetariana, followed by Quattro formaggi and Margherita”. Roncadin concludes.

The company Roncadin, with headquarters in Meduno (Pordenone), was founded in 1992 to manufacture fine Italian pizza for the German mass market. Today the business employs 336 people. Turnover in 2013 was 56 million euros, and the 2014 forecast is 70 million euros. Italian sales provide 29% of this figure and the remaining 71% comes from international sales, particularly in Germany and Uk. Roncadin recently started doing business in China and the United States. Production reached 44 million pizzas in 2013 and this figure is expected to grow to 65 million in 2014. In 2013 the company developed and brought to market nearly 370 new pizza recipes. All of them manufactured using Roncadin’s unique, patented, hot pressing method, which gives the finished product its characteristically thin base.

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