MaMa Rosa’s

The United States is becoming a nation of snackers. It can be healthy or indulgent, breakfast, lunch or dinner, but the point is that smaller, portable meals on the go are increasingly in demand. Along with companies forming to launch entirely new brands devoted to the snacking trend, many existing brands are adapting and expanding their product lines to meet this new trend, too. Such is the case with MaMa Rosa’s LLC.

Founded in 1979, MaMa Rosa’s is the No. 1 refrigerated national pizza brand. It also markets Our Old Italian brand, found predominately in the West. In 2011, MaMa Rosa’s was acquired by Huntsman Gay Global Capital from private equity firm Plaza Belmont. MaMa Rosa’s LLC CEO Gene Welka explains that Huntsman Gay Global was looking for a company with a solid base that it could build on.

“We were focusing on a branded company that had the flexibility to do different products within the prepared meal solutions arena,” Welka explains. “We saw the strength of MaMa Rosa’s with being the No. 1 refrigerated pizza, but we also saw capabilities in being able to do a number of other products.

“We did about three months of due diligence and we liked the space that it was in with refrigerated and frozen, and thought we could grow the brand in that space,” Welka continues. “But also we felt it put us in a position to introduce products in other categories.”

The MaMa Rosa’s facility is located in Sidney, Ohio. The facility is USDA and SQF Certified Level 2. Also, its fully integrated bakery produces crusts and dough balls under the Virga name. The company knew it could expand its product line using existing capabilities. And because the snacking trend is on the move, MaMa Rosa’s is meeting the consumers where they are.

Most Important Meal
“If you look at the top-10 innovation trends for new food products, snacking and mini meals is No. 1 on every list,” Senior Vice President Charlie Schnaars says. “Everyone wants convenient, portable snacking solutions, especially millennials. Millennials shop differently than any other age group; they like portability and they like snacking. They also like breakfast.”

Schnaars says 90 percent of consumers report that they eat breakfast and many of them are consuming “the most important meal of the day” more than once each day. Technically, he says breakfast occasions fall between the 1.5 to 1.7 range, which essentially means a breakfast early before the day starts and a smaller breakfast-type snack around 10 a.m, perhaps during work or school hours. Usually this second “breakfast” consists of a mid-morning “pick-up” consisting of a protein and caffeine. It’s a wide contrast to a decade ago when many people skipped breakfast entirely, he says.

“Forty-one percent of consumers have two or more breakfasts a day,” he says. “The average person is eating approximately1.6 breakfast meals a day. If you carry the math through, it’s billions of breakfast opportunities a year. It’s an opportunity for MaMa Rosa’s to take traditional comfort food and add new, innovative, portable solutions to meet consumers home and ‘on-the-go’ breakfast needs.”

And even outside of breakfast, consumers are still snacking more. Instead of eating three square meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – Schnaars says it’s now multiple meal occasions each day. The trend even comes with its own lingo expanding on the brunch concept. Hybrid words such as “linner,” “brinner” and “slunch” mark a nation that eats when it wanta. One reason is because of the on-the-go lifestyle of Americans. Another is what the company calls “green guilt” – which means consumers purchase only what they know they will eat to avoid food waste.

“Consumers today are very conscious not to waste food,” Schnaars says. “We wanted to make sure we listened to their feedback.

“We at Mama Rosa’s have developed a process we like to call ‘Built from the Crust Up.’®. Our crusts have been specifically developed to serve as a carrier for many unique toppings.”

MaMa Rosa’s has developed a new line it is getting ready to roll out June 1 called Piccolettos. It’s a play off the Italian word piccolo, which means small. The Piccolettos come in two separate lines. The first line is simply a smaller cousin to the MaMa Rosa’s original pizza. Instead of a large 14-inch cheese, pepperoni or combo pizza, lunch and dinner Piccolettos are mini-sized 3-inch versions that come in the same varieties.

For the early-morning crowd, the company developed breakfast Piccolettos that come in egg and cheese; sausage, egg and cheese; or bacon, egg and cheese, which meets the protein criteria for today’s breakfast eaters. Those categories are further broken down into three different sauce offerings, maple-flavored sauce and a savory buttery sauce.

The company says the breakfast Piccoletto appeals to all consumer groups, including children, which Schnaars and Welka say have greater input in meal planning than previous generations.

“We can use this unique crust as a carrier for any toppings from snacks to more adult-focused appetizers,” Schnaars explains. “We can do the typical sausage and cheese or pepperoni and cheese combinations. We could even do a chicken cordon bleu-style if there is demand.

“One of the things Gene and I bring to the table is we’ve both spent a considerable amount of time in the past developing meal solutions and providing consumers with options they really want,” Schnaars continues.

Bringing New Ideas to Fruition
Taking pizza and adapting it to meet today’s breakfast and snacking trends gives the consumers what they want via a familiar food and taste. Pizza itself is widely consumed among all age groups. Schnaars says that 70 percent of adults 18 to 24 had eaten pizza in the last month alone. Sixty-three percent of adults 45 to 54 and 62 percent of those adults 55 to 64 consumed pizza over the course of the last month. MaMa Rosa’s conducted extensive consumer testing at Ohio State and found that 72 percent of the test market eats a pizza snack anywhere between once a week to once a month. And these favorable numbers represent positive results in current projected declining pizza market.

“The pizza category continued to rise between 2006 to 2009,” Schnaars says. “It commanded more space in the frozen food department and in the meat department and deli take-and-bake areas. But then it started to decline in 2010, especially in frozen. Most analysts forecast says the pizza market will decline until 2016 and for the most part, they attribute the decline to innovation, or rather a lack thereof.”

Pizza is closely linked with the economic environment. Competition is everywhere. You can’t turn on the television or visit a QSR without noticing a focus on pizza, whether refrigerated, frozen, freshly made to order, take out etc. The fact is, although retail sales may be a bit sluggish, pizza will ultimately rebound.

“Consumers have multiple options today”” Schnaars explains. “I don’t necessary believe that the economy is significantly better than where we have been but I do believe that consumers are suffering from general fatigue and want options for their limited available food budgets.”

Seeing the missed opportunity for innovation among the various pizza segments and channels is one of the many factors that prompted MaMa Rosa’s to develop Piccolettos. MaMa Rosa’s saw the empty space – especially in the breakfast pizza category and appetizers – as an opportunity to capitalize on the general consumer love for pizza and comfort food.

Welka says through innovation and nurturing its standing as the No.1 refrigerated pizza brand, MaMa Rosa’s will continue to grow. Building off of its current foundation in the market, the goal now is to double the business and Huntsman Gay Global Capital continues to research other manufacturers with similar capabilities to complement MaMa Rosa’s.

“We will continue to develop meal solutions utilizing pizza , but we also want to grow the MaMa Rosa’s brand in refrigerated and frozen segments,” Welka explains. “We are eager to capitalize on new products – especially with the three-inch Piccoletto pizza that we feel is superior to existing product offerings.

“We are also looking at the acquisition of others and are working with Huntsman Gay Global to become a large manufacturer of a variety of products,” he continues. “That’s our vision for the next couple of years.”