Pizza never goes out of style, and with more and more pies being baked in grocery and c-store prepared foods departments, oven manufacturers are there to meet the growing demand with a combination of traditional craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. 

Burlington, Vermont-based Blodgett Oven Co. makes about 40 different ovens that can be used to make pizzas, says Sarah Tresser, an applications chef for the company. About nine of those are deck ovens, the rest are convections or combis.

Several factors set Blodgett apart from other pizza oven manufacturers, Tresser says. Blodgett deck ovens, for example, are the only ones in which pizza is cooked directly on an Ultra Rokite stone deck, which is designed for even heat transfer and moisture absorption — the keys to a crispy crust. Another advantage of Ultra Rokite, Tresser says, is it holds its heat better than surfaces used in other ovens. “It maintains the temperature if you’re cooking pizzas over and over,” she says. “With another oven, it might take eight minutes to make one pizza, then 10 minutes to make the next.”

In addition to the variety of offerings and the use of the Ultra Rokite deck, Blodgett deck ovens are gas-only, requiring no outlets — a big convenience, Tresser says, for customers. Ovens also can be directly vented, saving customers the expense of installing a canopy hood (which can run upwards of $10,000).

But probably the biggest thing Blodgett pizza ovens have going for them, Tresser says, is dependability. The company’s deck ovens, for instance, feature walls and frames that are welded in a single unit for increased durability. Blodgett doors, which are mounted directly into the oven’s frame, come with a standard five-year warranty, which is a good thing, Tresser says, when it comes to pizza. “When you’re constantly opening and dropping the door, it creates a lot of tension.” In lesser ovens, that can lead to deterioration, which in turn affects bake times.

That’s not an issue with Blodgetts, Tresser says. “I’ve seen deck ovens of ours which are still in use after 45 years. We offer a lot of bang for your buck.”

Grocery delis and c-stores are definitely growth areas for Blodgett, Tresser says. It all comes down to simple economics. Given the potential sales, a good pizza oven is a relatively low-cost investment. “Pizza is a money maker for a lot of grocery stores,” she says. “And in c-stores, we’re seeing more and more foodservice, and it’s much more than just fried foods.”


Ventless, energy efficient, space-saving

The latest innovation from Sandusky, Ohio-based Peerless Ovens is a new line of ventless electric ovens. The company spotlighted its ventless pizza oven (there are also bake and roast models) at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in March. “It allows operators to install our ovens without the need for expensive over-hood installations,” says Bryan Huntley, Peerless’ owner.

Peerless, whose ovens are used in IGA and other grocery store prepared foods departments as well as in c-stores, differentiates itself from the competition by offering the smallest-footprint ovens on the market, Huntley says. “We give you the best bang for the buck in the market. As one of our customers said (in a testimonial posted on the company’s web site), ‘Why buy bigger when you can the best for less?’” At 99 years and counting, Peerless is also one of the oldest manufacturers in the business, he says.

Peerless ovens come in four sizes — 30, 41.5, 50 and 60 in. — and three pan capacities — 4, 6 and 8. At the small end, Peerless’ CE131PE can cook three 18 in pizzas at a time. At the large end, the CW62PSC holds 16 16 in. pies.

Specializing in both gas and electric ovens, Peerless has always striven to be on the cutting edge of new pizza oven technology, Huntley says. “Our motto is continuous improvement. We constantly improve important aspects like control systems, burner systems and interior design, all to improve the quality of both baking ability and control life.”

Peerless ovens have evolved over the decades, but their main draw has always remained the same, Huntley says. “They’re simple, durable and they work.”

Three pizza ovens made by Middleby Marshall, a brand of Elgin, Illinois-based Middleby Corp. —the PS520, the PS528 and the newly available WOW! PS629 —fit the smaller footprint grocery and c-store prepared foods departments are looking for, says Steve Borosak, Middleby Marshall’s corporate chef. The 500 line has been in production for more than 20 years with minimal changes, he says.

The PS520 and PS528 ovens have the smallest footprints. Both have an 18 in. wide belt, and the PS520 has a baking cavity of 20 in and the PS528 a cavity of 28 in. The 520 is capable of producing 10 to 20 pizzas per hour depending on size and crust style, and the 528 can do 10 to 30 pizzas an hour.

The WOW! PS629 totes the fastest bake and highest energy efficiency of the three, baking 16 to 50 pizzas per hour depending on size and crust style, Borosak says. “The PS629 is nearly able to double the production of the 520 and 528 without adding much size as its baking cavity is 29 in long. The conveyor belt is still only 18 in wide.”

All three ovens units, Borosak says, are stackable to increase production with space limitations in mind.

Tradition is one of the things that separates Middleby ovens from the competition, Borosak says. “It started in 1888 and hasn’t changed since,” he says. “Middleby Marshall had the best bake 130 years ago and it remains the same today.”

Middleby Marshall also has been committed to innovation for that long history, which Borosak says is the reason its ovens have the fastest bake times in the industry, the safest oven surface temperatures, and patented energy saving technologies.  The WOW! Series, for instance, are the most energy efficient conveyor ovens on the market, he says.

Grocery stores, Borosak says, have been more open in recent years to having restaurants inside them to feed shoppers — or to provide that offering themselves. Convenience stores have also been expanding their food offerings because, he says, it’s another outlet to make a profit. And Middleby Marshall, Borosak says, is there to meet the growing demand. “We continue to innovate ours ovens to refine the perfect baking process that allows customers to receive a quality speed bake while being energy efficient for all footprint needs,” he says.

Borosak characterizes grocery and c-stores as “slow growth” categories for Middleby Marshall.