What makes pizza so popular? Well, for starters, it represents one of the first and most customizable menu items the foodservice industry has to offer. For years customers have been able to choose their crusts, toppings and more when ordering a pie that suits their tastes. Indeed, it is the culinary control that allows them to create everything from meat-laden to meatless versions of pizza that customers crave.

In addition, pizza represents a communal dining experience that spans all the generations. Everyone, from my 70-year-old mother to my 2-year-old daughter, loves to sit around the table and snare their own slice of pie while chewing the fat. At my house, few people get as warm a welcome at the front door as the pizza delivery man.

And pizza represents one of the remaining regional food rivalries. Cable television is littered with programs that compare and contrast pizza from Chicago and New York, two of the country's most notorious pie places. And, naturally, within those cities — and others across the country — the debate rages on as to which pizzeria is the best pie purveyor. California and Detroit-style pizza continue to grow in popularity, too. With a nod toward more authentic and artisan production of pizza, a number of operators have earned VPN certification, showing they have mastered the fine art of Neapolitan pizza making.

In my opinion, pizza represents much more than populist pies. I think the pizza segment offers a real look at the strengths of the foodservice industry. For example, pizza allows foodservice operators to showcase their own culinary creativity. From traditional cheese and sausage to Hawaiian-style pizzas and far too many others to mention here, artful foodservice operators use their crusts as a blank canvases to create culinary masterpieces. But pizza is not just for lunch or dinner anymore. A growing number of foodservice operators continue to tinker with breakfast and dessert options, introducing the popular pie into menu segments that had traditionally been off limits.

Pizza production also requires the effective and efficient use of a well-designed and equipped facility. When it comes to making pizza, we most commonly think of the deck or conveyor ovens used to bake the pies. While the oven is a key player in pie production, it needs to work in conjunction with a variety of other pieces of equipment and smallwares to deliver a pizza that meets the consumers' ever-evolving tastes.

And no detail is too small to overlook. I recall a story a corporate chef from a pizza chain once told me. He had an operator that could not get their pizza crust to come out just right. So the corporate chef spent some time in this operator's location and together they explored every possible reason that the crust would not conform to company norms. Was it the water quality? The air? The ingredients? Altering all these factors and countless others did not make a difference. Then it hit them. While the operator had purchased the right mixer model as outlined in the chain's specs, it was a used version that featured fewer revolutions per minute than the newer models. With a new mixer in place, the pizza dough production problems were addressed.

So it is with great pleasure that we at FE&S present our 2011 Pizza Supplement. The following pages are topped with much of the information foodservice operators and their supply chain partners need to navigate this exciting and evolving market segment.