Hasa started production in 2006 in one of the most modern and innovative facilities in Europe for manufacturing frozen pizza. Before long, the “new kid on the block” managed to corner a considerable share of the market. The company committed itself in particular to the private label business, but also private label brands like the “Italissimo” product range can increasingly be found in the freezers of the German and European food retail industry. Already after only a few years of operation, the first production expansion was already initiated at the company headquarters in Burg.
At a barely noticeable rate, the dough continues along the conveyor belt. Slowly but surely, it is then rolled out, thinner and thinner, piece by piece. The company’s painstaking approach to manufacturing pizza goes without saying for it is precisely what makes Hasa’s frozen pizzas so special. “The most critical part of the manufacturing process comes right at the beginning of production,” explains Holger Pitsch, one of the two managing directors of the company from Burg near Magdeburg.
While many customers base their purchase on the toppings of the pizza in the freezers of food retailers, Pitsch points out that “what lies underneath” actually has the greatest impact on quality. What distinguishes the pizza crusts at Hasa is the way the dough is produced and the long resting time the company gives the foundation before it is processed further. The Hasa production technology, which handles the dough with meticulous care, guarantees a resting time of up to 24 hours. “The foundation is always the most important part of the pizza,” remarks Andreas Czayka, the other managing director. “Our process allows for an unmistakably superior flavor to be achieved that is airy, yet crispy and was previously only available in restaurant pizzas.” As a result of the fermentation process, it is possible to do away with artificial rising agents, hardened fats and other artificial ingredients in the baking process. Only flour, yeast, salt, water, and olive oil find their way into the dough. Traditional Italian stone-oven pizza, but “made in Germany.”
The company’s approach to making pizza was already established at the time of its founding. The goal had always been to develop a frozen pizza that tastes like it came right from a pizzeria. In order to live up to this aim, all the pizzas were baked directly on a hot natural stone. “It is only through direct contact to stone in the baking process that our pizzas can become authentic stone-oven pizzas,” says Holder Pitsch.
Private labels enhance company profiles
This idea was developed by both brothers-in-law at the beginning of century until they both finally committed to making their ambitious project a reality. After the initial planning phase, the new production facility was built on an empty lot in Burg in Saxony-Anhalt in 2005. The location, which was virtually in the middle of Germany, within short reach of several autobahn connections and had good links to new markets in Eastern Europe, proved ideal. €13 million was initially invested for building production and management facilities. In subsequent years, another €22 million was invested for expansion. In the beginning of 2006, the company entered the market as a newcomer with a complete line of stone-oven pizzas. The partners identified the private label business as the target group and the area of greatest potential from the beginning. “The market for frozen pizzas was already saturated and highly competitive. However, we also continued to see considerable potential for growth in this segment,” explains Czayka. Just one look at the growth of this area of the frozen food market in the last 10 years shows just how much their assessment at that time was right on the mark.
Flexibility with 90 varieties
The market for frozen pizza has only continued to grow since the company's founding. In fact, Hasa has grown even more than the market has itself over the past few years, for it has consistently gained a greater share of the market. According to company estimates, its market share was 8% of the entire market in 2013; but when looking at only the segment of store brands, the market share was actually nearly 15%. This is certainly an impressive accomplishment for a medium-sized, family-led company that is also not part of a larger corporation.
“While we don’t aim to take the lead in the market, we do want to be the leader in quality,” clarifies Czayka. In addition to private label products, Hasa has also introduced its own private label “Italissimo” to the freezers of food retailers. “Private label products offer individual retail chains a much greater opportunity to raise their profile,” says Holger Pitsch. Over the years, private-label brands have increasingly become standard bearers for the images of large retail chains. For this reason, Hasa set itself the goal at the very beginning of offering private-label products in all three price segments: the budget category, the standard category, and the premium category.
For these private label products, accolades within the scope of the quality-assurance testing of the DLG (Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft) are very important, both domestically and abroad. Since 2006, Hasa has submitted a total of 287 products and recipes reflecting a wide range of pizza varieties. Over 85% of these were awarded either gold or silver. These are results that the company’s puts on proud display: Upon entering the administration office, visitors are “greeted” by several dozen awards in the entrance and the wall of the main staircase. “It’s our hall of fame,” chuckles Holger Pitsch. From the start, the construction of the production facilities was focused on allowing the greatest possible flexibility with regard to the size and the forms of the pizza. This flexibility is crucial, for example, in the production of the patented “Pizza Amore,” a frozen pizza in the shape of a heart that has developed into a top-seller for special occasions like Valentine’s Day or Mother's Day.
Along with the classic Italian stone-oven crusts, it is also possible to manufacture American varieties, tarte flambée, and others. Besides the special crusts, however, the pizzas also of course need to win over customers with their toppings. Currently, there are a total of 90 different pizza varieties that are made by around 170 employees in three separate shifts. Along with traditional favorites like “Salame,” “Speciale,” “Prosciutto,” or “Tonno,” there are also special varieties like “Primavera” with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, Grana Padano, balsamic, and rocket salad and the “Deliziosa,” which features chicken, mozzarella, hot peppers, and red onions, or “Antipasti” with grilled vegetables, mozzarella, olives, and herb butter.
Despite this selection, the possibilities are nearly endless. “Every conceivable flavor and combination of toppings can be manufactured for our customers,” explains Holder Pitsch. When developing new products, Hasa sometimes comes up with its own ideas, yet it also creates products by collaborating with customers. In recent years, the extensive organic range has also become more and more popular for the IFC- and BRC-certified company. “In the last few years, the quality of the products in the organic range has clearly gotten better,” says Andreas Czayka. The company now uses items like select mushrooms and rocket salad.
Goal: stronger growth abroad
The production facility Hasa built initially made it possible to manufacture 36 million pizzas. As it would soon turn out, however, this wasn’t enough: By 2009, the company already had to regularly announce that it was “sold out.” Greater capacity was needed. In 2010, the existing production line was therefore expanded with a second toppings line, increasing capacity to approximately 60 million pizzas per year. The following year, a new fully automatic frozen pizza logistics center was also put into operation. The production capacity was nevertheless again pushed to its limits. This led to the new construction on a second production line at the company headquarters in Saxony-Anhalt. With the new facility, total capacity had reached nearly 120 million pizzas annually. For the year 2014, the still-young company expects sales of around 80 million pizzas – 95% of which will be in the domestic market. As the managing directors reveal, it is precisely in this segment that Hasa wants to position itself in the future. The export business will also be gradually extended and expanded in the future. A newly developed “Italissmo” premium range of pizzas has been tailored specifically to foreign markets. The company premises were conceived on a large scale from the day Hasa was founded so that even greater expansions and production extensions would be possible whenever necessary. As Holger Pitsch explains, the first thoughts in this direction are already being considered. To be sure, the limits of the production capacity of the existing production lines have not yet been reached. An expansion of the production to other products such as pizza snacks, however, has been slated for the future. Therefore, though dough may need time to develop and unfold its flavor, it can nonetheless be said that the company itself is growing at a rapid pace.