Tuesday, April 18, 2017 by Isabelle Z.
The demand for organic produce extends far beyond the health food crowd, with news stories constantly emerging of big brands making the switch. Now, national pizza chain Papa John’s is offering freshly sliced organic vegetable toppings in 35 of its Lexington-area locations as part of a pilot program that they eventually intend to launch throughout the country.
Papa John’s has partnered with Green BEAN delivery to source the vegetables, which include Roma tomatoes, yellow onions, mushrooms, and green peppers. The produce is coming from Certified Organic family farms throughout the nation.
It can be hard to resist the lure of a freshly-baked pizza, especially when you’re short on time and need to feed a crowd. Even when people are eating fast food, they don’t want to ingest cancer-causing chemicals, and it’s always great to see brands recognize this. Pizza may not be the healthiest food out there, but the move reflects a positive trend and gives people more choices.
The chain’s Chief Ingredient Officer, Sean Muldoon, acknowledged that customers increasingly want to know exactly where their food is coming from and how it was produced. He said in a press release, “Moving into a test of organic produce is a natural progression as Papa John’s takes pride in our position of having the cleanest label in the pizza industry.”
So far, the response has been very positive, according to Muldoon. He says the change in ingredients has not changed the flavor of the pizza, nor has it impacted the price, but it will take time to assess the feedback and source enough organic toppings to roll it out throughout the nation. Although he says this is one of the more complicated endeavors they’ve taken on, the investment will be worth it. The Organic Trade Association reports that the sales of organic produce reached $14.4 billion in 2015. Thirteen percent of the fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S. are organic, and that figure is expected to reach 20 percent by the year 2020.
While the rest of the pizza currently contains conventional ingredients, there is a lot less to worry about in these pizzas than those of many other chains. Papa John’s is the first national pizza chain to remove harmful ingredients from its menu. Last January, they announced that they would no longer use artificial flavors and colors, joining ingredients that had already been banned in their restaurants like MSG, cellulose, partially hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, fillers in meat toppings, trans fats, and the preservatives BHA and BHT. These ingredients were removed from all of their pizzas, desserts, and sauces in keeping with their “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza” motto.
Last summer, they transitioned to chicken that was raised on a vegetarian diet without any human or animal antibiotics for their chicken toppings and chicken poppers. They have also switched to cage-free eggs. It’s still not health food, but it’s a step in the right direction.
This is far from a grassroots effort by a niche brand. When the third-largest pizza delivery chain in the world makes a move like this, it’s clear that organic is more than just a fad. Hopefully, other chains will follow their lead and start bringing customers the healthy ingredients that they increasingly demand. Last year, 82.3 percent of Americans had organic food in their homes, and restaurants that want to be successful need to take note and remove cancer-causing ingredients from their menus. After all, it’s hard to get repeat business if you kill your customers!