You know it’s a global village when… the bestselling shop-bought pizza in Italy, and indeed in 33 other countries around the world, is made by a German-owned food company on an industrial estate just off the M6 in Leyland, Lancashire.
For lovers of fresh, non-industrial, locally sourced food – and hopeless romantics who continue to believe that if anyone knows a good pizza when they see one, it should surely be the Italians – this does not, on the face of it, look like good news.
But according to figures from Information Resources, Dr Oetker’s thin-crust frozen Ristorante pizzas now account for fully 20% of the Italian ready-made pizza market, with the tuna, four-cheese and mushroom toppings leading sales.
In Britain, will be more familiar with the company as a purveyor of cake and pudding mixes, baking powder – its first product, devised in 1893 by the august Dr August Oetker – and the Onken line of yoghurts.
But after a string of acquisitions here, the German firm – which also owns Chicago Town pizzas – has cornered more than 40% of the UK ready-made pizza market, worth £375m a year. In Italy, it’s bigger than the 200-year-old national treasure that is Buitoni Bella Napoli. Across Europe, the packaged convenience foods market is growing by 15% a year.
So how does Dr Oetker’s Ristorante pizza do on tasting? While it “pained” him to say, The Guardian columnist, Jon Henley, describes them as “not inedible”.
He goes on to write: “I had the margherita for lunch; £1.39 from Tesco Local (they are often even cheaper as multibuys). The photo on the alarmingly multilingual packaging is clinical, but the pizza – crisp if overly mealy base, not unpalatable and quite chunky tomato sauce, real mozzarella slices, little blobs of frozen pesto – was inoffensive in the extreme.
“Granted, it required olive oil and black pepper to gain anything resembling a flavour. But I had none of the annoying topping slippage that a colleague – a rather more regular Dr Oetker customer than I – complains lets the pizzas down, and for £1.39, I can see the attraction. Even if the consecration of a Lancashire-made German pizza in Italy marks, I fear, the End of Days.”