A Slice Above The Rest

 Home Run Inn pizza - new packaging June 2016

Home Run Inn pizza - new packaging June 2016

So I am not shy about the fact that Home Run Inn is absolutely my favorite frozen Pizza, bar none.  I grew up on brands like Totino's and Red Barron.  But, I also ate brands like Jack's Pizza which was founded in my native Wisconsin (before being acquired by Kraft and then Nestle) and Tombstone (also founded in Wisconsin).  As I like to say, I've never met a pizza I didn't like.

Now if you eat frozen pizza, it quickly becomes evident they are not the same as eating in your local pizzeria or wood-fired pizza joint.  Those are fresh-from-scratch restaurants lovingly made by hand with ingredients that don't need to undergo (and survive) flash freezing.  Fresh is always a cut above, but only the frozen pizza can be there for you in a pinch.

When DiGiorno pizza came on the market in 1995 they took at stab at positioning themselves as the "it's not delivery" alternative to ordinary pizza, and honestly I bought in.  During the first several months DiGiorno was on the market I think our household ate through a dozen of their new take on what a frozen pizza could be.

Then, over the ensuing years, I dabbled with California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizza, as well as Newman's Own, Annie's Homegrown, Tony's, Freschetta, and Amy's, to name a few.  But then, I tried a Home Run Inn frozen pizza.  It was love at first bite.  The crust was crispy and not-too-thick, not-too-thin. The sauce tasted like tomato (not watered down like some other frozen pizzas).  The pepperoni was ample and spicy.  And the mozzarella cheese was firm and thick. 

In my humble opinion Home Run Inn raised the game on frozen pizzas.  Whether in Minneapolis or Seattle, ever since my first take of Home Run Inn, whenever my wife and I are in town on a Saturday night, we eat a salad and a Home Run Inn pizza.  My affinity for the brand runs incredibly deep.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Home Run Inn knows a think or two about pizza. They had humble beginnings in Chicago and have been making pizzas since 1947 and selling frozen pizzas since the 1950s (you can still eat at their restaurants in Chicagoland). 

In June 2016 they changed their frozen pizza packaging. Unfortunately, at the same time I noticed some changes in the consistency of their cheese. Honestly, I figured they were using the new packaging to mask the fact that they were moving to a lower grade of cheese. I was disappointed by this prospect that a product I loved so much could be falling victim to big corporate antics and potential frozen pizza homogenization.

Before boycotting them, I just had to reach out and ask what's up? I had the opportunity to speak with Renee Storie, Digital & Social Media Manager at Home Run Inn, who was incredibly responsive.  Like all my other experiences with the Home Run Inn brand, Renee is top-notch.

When I asked Renee about changed I detected in the consistency of the cheese, she said, "Our ingredients and our suppliers have not changed, however twice a year we receive a new crop of flour that we use to make our dough. The flour characteristics such as protein levels, moisture etc. are dependent on the environment in which the wheat was raised and harvested. The slightest change in the specs has significant impact on the performance of the dough, baking requirements and the manufacturing process."

Renee continued, "In late May/early June we started to transition to a new crop of flour. The water absorption was quite different. Unfortunately, it takes us some time to tweak the production process to find the right balance. The end result is the crust was browning too quickly so we lowered our oven temps during the par baking process."

When asked about how the crust could have any impact on the cheese, this is where Renee really went above and beyond in sharing knowledge about the science of great pizza.  She explained, "We think the cheese was not getting the same amount of browning it typically does prior to reaching the consumer. I think that is why it was a little lighter in both color and consistency as you are typically used to."

When I explained how the timing seemed more than coincidental to the new packaging, Renee explained how seasonal changes were occurring simultaneously with packaging changes. "May and June also happened to be when we converted to the new box design so the pizza in the old box was more similar to the standard we both want and expect," said Renee. "It was made with the old crop of flour which they refer to as the winter harvest."

So, that explains a lot.  New packaging, check!  New ingredient?  Only due to mother nature.  Renee put my concerns to rest.  She stated that, "You should see the cheese profile improve in the next 3-4 weeks as we have adjusted water levels during the dough production to account for the spring wheat and returned to the previous baking conditions."

So, there you have it folks. New packaging, but same great pizza. Thank you Home Run Inn for creating a pizza that never comes out of the oven tasting like a frozen pizza.  And, thank you for presenting a wonderful lesson on how to respond thoughtfully to your community of customers.  It really shows why Home Run Inn pizza is a slice above the rest.