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.

 

Keeping It Simple

I really enjoyed this posting on www.zeldman.com: web design news & information since 1995.

THANK YOU for the screen shot. I was actually already aware that the type on my site is big. I designed it that way. And while I’m grateful for your kind desire to help me, I actually do know how the site looks in a browser with default settings on a desktop computer…

The first thing you might notice reading www.zeldman.com is that is it easy read, and yes, it is true, he uses really big type on this latest version of his web site in order to best share his thinking with his audience—and to think outside of the box. That’s when it occurred to me that one of the things that I am enjoying about blogging is the ability it gives me to present my thoughts to our oven community without the clutter of traditional web design, and all of the demands of links, navigation, colors, fonts, logos and layout. It gives me a sense for freedom to just think and write. Nice.

Among other things, Jeffrey Zeldman hosts The Big Web Show, a weekly podcast featuring special guests and topics like web publishing, art direction, content strategy, typography, web technology, and more.

Innovating a 2,000 Year Old Product

The word innovation usually conjures up images of semiconductors, Internet software and green energy. But at Forno Bravo, we keep innovating around a 2,000 year old product. I have written a lot over the years about the ovens in ancient Pompeii, and how remarkable the design, the materials and the craftsmanship were on the ovens.

How do you improve on something that has been so well known and understood for so long?

That is certainly the thinking of many (I might even say most) pizza oven companies. They seem to have stopped innovating 30 (or more) years ago, and they are still selling the same products that they were making and selling in the 1980s, or earlier. But I think I am too restless for that type of an approach, and it leaves too many opportunities unexplored.

At Forno Bravo we are having a lot of fun constantly improving our products and developing products that serve new markets and oven uses. Going all the way back to the first days of the company, our goal has always been to make wood-fired cooking and pizza ovens as popular in the U.S. (and Canada, the UK, Australia and the rest of the world outside of the Mediterranean) as they are in Italy; to make the pizza oven as popular as the propane grill. Yes, I keep dreaming.

And it has always seemed to me that the best way to do that was to make it a lot easier for the person who likes to cook and likes good food to buy, install and use a pizza oven. We quickly came to see that one sizes does not fit all, and that one person’s hobby is another person’s nightmare, and that not everyone wants to install a modular pizza oven kit in their back yard. Some do and some do not.

I often think that Forno Bravo has more in common with Apple, or Google, than our competitors in the pizza oven marketplace. Where Apple works with processors, memory, battery capacity, packaging, size and weight, we work with refractories, insulators, heat holding capacity, packing, size and weight. We make trade-offs with size and weight and how they impact the user experience. We use fundamental technology to get more performance (cooking capacity and heat retention) from the same (limited) physical space; we work hard on product packaging to deliver maximum utility from fixed weight restrictions; and we deliver awesome performance when weight and sizes are not limiting factors.

We have a number of different levers (means of design and production that we can control) to work with, including refractory binders, refractory aggregates and additives, refractory mortars, insulation, dome design, ventilation design, air flow, oven opening design, stands and enclosures, metal, paint, powder coating, chimneys, and a wide range of ascetic design materials.

Our applications include backyard cooking for a small family, or for large parties, professionals catering events throughout their community, pizzerias striving to make world-class pizza, create a following, build a brand and make a profit, people who want to roll their oven to their pools deck, or into their garage for the winter, or want to install a small oven on a small deck, who like the look of smooth stucco, or want to build an outdoor oasis. People who want to make great pizza, real crusty hearth bread, or who know how a brick oven just makes everything they cook taste better.

So as long as our customers are willing to keep trying hard to make a better pizza or a better loaf of bread, we are happy to keep working hard to make our ovens better—and to keep coming up with ovens that you can use in all sorts of new ways.

In fact, we have a new innovative oven that is just about ready to be introduced to the market. Stay tuned for the Forno Bravo Presto.