A Green Fusion

February 5, 2010

Pizza is one of the most consumed foodservice products in the United States – the category accounts for about 10 percent of all foodservice sales. Pizza sales have steadily increased over the years and now account for more than $30 billion in annual sales and 17 percent of restaurants in the United States are pizzerias.

At the same time, the organic segment has grown from sales of $1 billion in 1990 to more than $28 billion in 2008, with double-digit sales growth almost every year. And with organics accounting for only 3 percent of foodservice sales, one enterprising business sought to marry the pizza industry and the organic market into a new business model.

That company is Pizza Fusion, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based franchise with 20 stores in 11 states and one international location.

The company was founded in 2006 by two college friends – Vaughn Lazar and Michael Gordon. They were looking to start a business that would inspire them, but would also do something good for people and the environment. So Pizza Fusion was born – a pizzeria that uses organic products and sustainable practices in its stores.

“Sustainability was a passion of the founders from the beginning – not just for the products but for the stores,” said Eric Haley, vice president of communications for Pizza Fusion.

Sustainability

Whenever it’s possible, depending on the region and season, Pizza Fusion sources local, organic produce for its pizzas and salads. About 75 percent of the items on the menu are organic, but for the remaining items the company opts for all-natural. To keep the taste consistent across the chain, the tomatoes for the sauce are come from one California supplier, but the sauce is made fresh with locally sourced ingredients.

In addition to pizza, Pizza Fusion has sandwiches and salads, which utilize fresh-cut romaine lettuce from Earthbound Farms and Taylor Farms, according to the company. The company chooses its suppliers carefully, Haley said, to ensure they’re using sustainable practices.

“We’re very particular about the vendors we work with,” Haley said. “We encourage vendors to go green wherever they can.”

The founders also ensured that the retail outlets would be sustainable. Furniture is made from reclaimed wood, insulation is from recycled blue jeans, wood and concrete stains are soy based and the bathrooms use low-flow water faucets and dual-flush toilets. Even the ovens, which are energy efficient to start, are used to heat the rest of the store.

A lot of though has gone into the design and outfitting of the retail outlets, but Pizza Fusion still wanted more. Five of the stores are built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards from the U.S. Green Building Council, with the most recent one in Atlanta certified in December. LEED certification is recognition that everything from site design and location, energy conservation, water use, materials and environmental quality are considered in the construction of a new building.

“We’re very proud to announce the LEED certification of another Pizza Fusion restaurant,” Vaughan Lazar, president and co-founder of Pizza Fusion, states. “Pizza Fusion Atlanta reflects the strict environmental approach we apply to every Pizza Fusion, whether it’s LEED certified or not. We are committed to providing a healthy environment where our customers can enjoy Pizza Fusion’s delicious organic food.”

Containers that go out the door with customers were also selected for their sustainability. The pizza boxes use post-consumer recycled cardboard (and customers are encouraged to bring back pizza boxes to be recycled), the plastic serving containers are made from corn starch that biodegrades in a landfill in 60 days and the utensils are made from potatoes and also biodegrade in 60 days.

Deliveries make up a large part of pizza sales, so Pizza Fusion uses a hybrid gas-electric vehicle – a Toyota Prius – to reduce gas consumption. The cars are branded with the Pizza Fusion logo and are company-owned. Another energy consideration is power, so the company purchase wind power offsets for the total of its stores’ power consumption.

Organic

Pizza Fusion doesn’t just use organic products, it made sure the organic chain isn’t broken. The company is the only pizza chain to obtain an Organic Food Handlers certification on top of its internal quality control measures. Every store was audited by San Diego-based Quality Assurance International to ensure there was no crossover of organic and conventional products or in the preparation.

Sourcing organics is more expensive than conventional produce, but the company will benefit from growing larger, Haley said.

“As we grow, our purchasing power will increase and we’ll pass those savings along to consumers,” he said.
In 2009, Pizza Fusion had a 40 percent cut in prices across its menu as a result of savings from purchasing more organic and conventional produce. The average price of a pizza is a little more than $13, so bringing the price down will attract even more consumers to the brand, Haley said.

“Making it more accessible to consumers is very important to us,” he said. “Our quality stands out far above other pizza places.”

Growth

The recipe seems to be working. Since it was founding in 2006, Pizza Fusion has grown to 20 stores, including one in Saudi Arabia. The company plans to have 90 stores by the end of 2010, and 150 by the end of 2011. The stores are targeted at areas with a large concentration of hip and trendy consumers who are more likely to have a concern for the environment.

The company credits that growth to the trend toward healthy food products and the public’s concern for the environment.

“The environmental movement went mainstream in 2006 and 2007, and this concept emerged just at the right time,” Haley said.

By eating at Pizza Fusion, target customers are able to consume one of America’s most popular meals and still feel good about it, something that’s not true about consuming many of the pizza products on the market.

Pizza Fusion’s Sustainable Initiatives:
• All restaurants are built to LEED specifications.
• Purchasing wind energy offsets for power consumption at stores.
• Heat from ovens is recycled to heat the stores.
• Recycle 50 percent of waste and use products that biodegrade in landfills in 80 days.
• In-store recycling program that encourages consumers to return pizza boxes.
• Using re-used construction materials to furnish stores – church pews, bowling alley chairs for seating, wood floors from old bowling alleys or gyms.
• Installing low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets.
• Provide employees with organic cotton apparel.
• Food is served in containers made from corn starch that biodegrades in 60 days.
• Utensils are made from potatoes and biodegrade in 60 days.
• Deliveries are done in a hybrid vehicle – a Toyota Prius.


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