The Wood-Fired Blog

Innovating the Pizza Oven; Part II

In yesterday’s posting about the Ovens from Napoli, I found myself writing and thinking about the companies that make pizza ovens, and their underlying organizational and design philosophies. And whether they are innovative or traditional; pushing the state-of-the-art or still making their grandfather’s pizza oven.

One of the first things that struck me was how virtually every other pizza oven company is deeply rooted in the past, and how much Forno Bravo stands out as an innovator. Looking at US marketplace, with one exception, you really only see two types of company: importers and very small companies who do not do their own manufacturing. Which is pretty cool. This gives Forno Bravo the ability to create new products and open new markets where no one else can. This is fun. :-)

Today, the majority of Forno Bravo’s competitors in both the US residential and commercial pizza oven markets are importers of ovens made by small, family-owned companies located in Italy (and one in France). Even most of the ones who say their ovens are “made-in-the-USA” still buy the actual oven, dome, floor and vent from an European manufacturer. This most important characteristic of this dynamic is that the importer can only ever be as good and as innovative as the company they buy from. Typically, the Italian manufacturers are small, multi-generational companies where the current management took over operations from their parents, and their products are virtually unchanged over the past 20 years.

From a business perspective, this is a reflection of the Italian economy’s reliance on mom-and-pop businesses as source of it’s weakness in today’s connected global economy. Greece suffers from a similar problem — I wrote about the Greek pizza oven market in the past, where I found three different brick oven manufacturers within one mile of each of other in a small town on Crete.

A traditionalist might argue that it’s a good thing that the pizza oven has been virtually unchanged for the past 20 years (or perhaps 2,000 years, all the way back to Roman times), and that we should not mess with a good thing. While this logic has some nice appeal, it ignores the technical advances of the past 20 years. And while the technology of pizza ovens may not have not evolved as fast as, say, smart phones or computers, it has definitely progressed. Today we have access to cost-effective refractories and insulators that are more efficient and cheaper than the alternatives of 20, or even 5 or 10 years go. Technology is an irresistible force, where today’s $15,000 economy car is faster and safer than the $70,000 luxury car from the 1970′s.

At the same time, technology advances also enable design innovation. We aren’t just making the same products using new materials. New materials can also enable new ovens that can be used to make traditional Pizza Napoletana in new places and new circumstances.

Innovation in equally difficult for our very small US-based competitors. These companies do not have their own manufacturing facilities and they only have a few products. I will be blogging next about ventilation and the advantages of different venting methods that underscores the limitation of the designs of these smaller, less sophisticated companies.

But for now, we are happy to have the capacity and skill to develop fun and interesting new products that make pizza ovens better — and available to a growing audience. We really like the new Strada60 oven that is light enough to be moved around for parties and tailgating; and we hope that you like it as well.

And stay tuned for our newest small backyard pizza oven. In time for Christmas.