Pizza Do-Pyaza

I love the Pizza, but I never used to find anything fancy about it. It was a simple recipe: grab a flat pie of bread circular in shape, spread cheese & tomato paste and throw in vegetables, maybe some processed cold meat too. Bake it in an oven and there you have a pizza. Well, not quite ... you might argue! The pizza, in today's avatar, is much more than just a simple snack. It's a foundation on which innovative ideas are being applied, and a few million rupees of advertising bucks too.

More than a decade back, when I tasted the pizza for the first time, it was at a small bakery in New Delhi. When I took the first bite, there was lightening in the sky and time stood still. Well, not really! But yes, I had my first pizza at a neighborhood bakery and honestly, I don't remember the experience clearly so I guess it wasn't anything extraordinary. But I do remember that I grew to be very fond of baking pizza at home. It was a simple recipe and the end-product was interesting too. I remember treating my sister to many a home-burnt slices of Pizza. The microwave hadn't come out in the market back then and we had the conventional oven in which it was difficult to figure out when the temperature got too hot. Since then, I've seen numerous creative brains trying to do things to the good old pizza and making consumers pay for their creativity.

The mission, should anyone choose to accept it, was to sell the Pizza in India. And so, the fun began.

First they saw the pizza base: plain Jane & not sexy at all. Mr. A attempted to change the pizza base from circular to square and renaming it to Pizza sandwich. It didn't work. Then Mr. B figured that the pizza base lacked identity, and tried to stuff it's insides with cheese. That impressed people but made the pizza base feel very sad & bloated. Mr. C took a clue from that and figured out that if veggies get to eat pizza base stuffed with cheese, non-veggies deserve chicken in the base. The bones were spoiling the shape of the base, so they decided to go with Chicken Ham. Mr. D noticed that the pizza base was putting on weight so came up with the idea of thinning it down, and so the Thin Crust was born. The pizza base today feels insecure in our country and is fast losing its original identity.

Then they saw the cheese and tomato and alas, it failed to impress them much.

They moved on to the toppings next and instantly saw vegetables. "If Vegetables are fresh, so will be the pizza". A great idea, and they tried to create a brand called Freshizza. Then one fine day, a regular guy was cooking up a quick meal at home and realized that all he had in his refrigerator was a pizza base and leftovers from last night. He put his culinary skills to test & Eureka!!!: the idea of Indian pizzas was born ... Tandoori aloo Pizza, the Murg Makhani Pizza etc. I'm sure that the road that lies ahead promises an adventurous ride on a plate (literally), the Fat Man predicts that Samosas and Dhoklas will soon make appearances on your Pizza.

Well, the Pizza is not a very complex product and numerous diversifications had been tried already. What remained was the price & presentation. Massive wars have been fought between competitors on these two fronts. Carefully laid out combo deals, discount coupons, Happy hours, guaranteed in-time home delivery: it's amusing to watch that majority of the marketing campaigns don't talk about the product at all. But they do guarantee that they will deliver in 40 minutes, whether or not the toppings arrive on the pizza base or piled-up in the corner of the box. They do claim that you will get 4 pizzas in 200 bucks, the pizza base may be stale though. There will be 9 toppings on the pizza, but did someone mention what quantity of each.

In the war for selling Pizza, each brand has established its own brand image and corresponding place in the market too. Some brands have the infrastructure to deliver a decent product at a high cost though, but they are too fascinated by Indianizing the Pizza. Someone else has an OK product but doesn't offer a dine-in; home delivered pizza when reheated in a Microwave doesn't taste as good. Someone else sells awful stale pizzas but priced cheap, if that makes you happy. When you find that the product is satisfactory, pricing is right, taste is authentic, you come to know that the chain doesn't have a budget to print menu fliers; you have to take pains to connect to the Internet & refer the menu on their website while ordering for home delivery. Makes you wonder whether that's a strategy too ... working for their rivals maybe

Marketing wars between competitors is expected and natural too. But, ruining the product's identity in order to sell is pure manipulation. One of the many definitions of Marketing is "the commercial processes involved in promoting and selling and distributing a product or service". When marketing begins to influence the product's identity, it crosses the line principally, even though it might manage to sell. The true test of marketing is to sell a product as-is, without distorting it. If we have to convert the good old pizza to a product that has a base stuffed with rice & rajmah and topped with daal makhni and shahi paneer .... well, then we should accept that either the product or the market segment being targeted is not quite right. If the consumer wants Rice, rajmah, daal makhni and shahi paneer, you can give the customer what he wants and save My-Dear-Pizza the sacrilege.

Look beyond the Pizza and you will start to see a similar trend all around. International chains like Subway & McDonalds have a prominent Indian section in their menu. Some see it as a positive thing for the Indian cuisine, but is it really so? An Indian restaurant becoming popular in the west may be something positive, but indianizing international cuisine to reach out to volumes: definitely not.

The Fat Man likes the good old pizza and loves Tandoori Chicken too, but Tandoori Chicken on Pizza, No Thanx!