Thinking Outside the Box: Innovations in Pizza Packaging

Innovations in Pizza Box Packaging

When you picture the box that a pizza comes in, chances are you imagine a cardboard square. But Zume Pizza, a startup in Silicon Valley, has re-imagined the pizza box as a pod, made of sustainable material that can collect grease and moisture — it can also transform into an elegant serving tray.

Bernard Rioux, Global New Business Development Director at DuPont calls the Pizza Pod, “The perfect illustration of how a careful analysis of needs along the entire value chain can lead to re-inventing a packaging system. Not only does the Pizza Pod bring a true packaging differentiation, it brings enhanced gustative experience to the consumer.”

The DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation ratified that opinion by naming the Pod the Diamond Finalist Award Winner in its 2017 competition.

“The Pizza Pod is a unique solution that not only incorporates green materials but is also able to drive premiumness in its design,” says David Luttenberger, lead judge for the competition, which chose among nearly 150 entries from 24 countries.1

It also shows how packaging designers need to think outside the box — quite literally — to deal with the growing environmental impact of food packaging.

Billions of Boxes

The average American eats 46 slices of pizza, or 23 pounds of the doughy treat, a year.2 Of the three billion pizzas sold in the U.S. every year, about two billion are transported in cardboard pizza boxes.3 But for all their popularity, pizza boxes have always had a suboptimal design. “Boxes are notoriously bad at impacting the flavor of a pizza,” says Scott Wiener, author of Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box.

“Normally you get a pizza in a box, you lift open the box and the box has trapped so much steam that the pizza is gross and soggy.”4

In addition, cardboard pizza boxes are difficult to recycle because of the gooey leftover cheese and grease — it gets mixed in with the pulp, lowering the quality of the recovered fiber and possibly ruining an entire batch of potentially reusable paper.5 Many municipalities ban pizza boxes from recycling programs for that reason.6

The Pizza Pod was part of a plan to “rewrite the rules of the industry,” explains Julia Collins, founder of Zume Pizza. Her company uses robots to make the pies, and delivers them in special vehicles equipped with computer-activated ovens that bake the pies on route to the customer, keeping them hotter when delivered. In pondering the container, she polled friends and scanned Yelp for recurring complaints about pizza boxes.

“No matter how quickly the pie arrives, your average delivery pizza will turn greasy, soggy and cold while sitting in a cardboard box,” she says. “Sometimes the cheese is sticking to the top, sometimes the toppings have all slid to one side in transit. Plus, the box is awkwardly shaped, unattractive to display on your kitchen table and difficult to throw away.”7

Thank the Panini

To create the Pod, Collins drew inspiration from two unlikely sources — a panini press and hotel room service. The base of the Pod is a series of ridges that guide excess oil and grease into a center circular recess, similar to the way the press uses ridges to divert leftover liquid. The pod’s dome lid is a nod to the plates used in hotel room service.

The Pizza Pod is lighter than the current corrugated box, reducing raw material use and packaging waste. But its primary environmental impact comes from its source material — bagasse, the sugarcane fiber that is left over after the juice is extracted. “In many countries, the bagasse is typically incinerated for use as fuel, but we take the bagasse and transform it into a raw material for food packaging,” Collins explains.

That aspect particularly impressed the Packaging Innovation contest judges. Luttenberger notes the 100 percent sustainably farmed sugarcane fiber makes the Pizza Pod “tree-free, compostable and biodegradable.” The box is also designed with compartments for each slice, allowing a used box to be easily folded up and placed into the small compost bin in apartments.

Wiener sees growing interest in environmentally friendly pizza boxes, which take up less space in the garbage can, or can be easily recyclable or compostable. There are also more boxes with a secondary use, such as turning into its own container for leftovers.  

For example, one pizza box, the GreenBox, is made from recycled materials and perforated so the top of the box can be used for plates, while the bottom can be used as a pizza storage unit.8 It eliminates the need for storage materials like paper plates, plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

Even the bellwether of trendy design, Apple, recently revealed it had filed a patent for a circular pizza box, which is opened with a hinged side and can be made from recycled materials like molded fiber. Right now, the container, whose primary aim is to reduce soggy crusts, is designed for use only in the company’s dining room.9

Unless the world supply of pepperoni suddenly disappears, the appetite for pizza won’t diminish anytime soon. And neither will the push to make its packaging more environmentally friendly.