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The Ribbon Pepperoni Revolution

Joe Mellenbruch | April 9, 2024

Food | The Originate Initiative

Behind the scenes: How the innovation team at Hormel Foods sparked a culinary revolution with a fresh take on a classic topping.

Greg Witt has been a Hormel Foods sales professional for over 25 years. A Detroit native, he plays hockey with his buddies a few times a week during the winter months, and at times over the years, his recreational exploits have taken him across the Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River and into Windsor, Ontario where he developed an appreciation for Windsor-style pizza. Windsor pie, nothing short of a cultural phenomenon in Ontario, is universally defined by several unique characteristics, including the use of canned mushrooms, cornmeal-bottom crust, and shredded pepperoni strewn across the top of the pizza in thin ribbons.

Witt was intrigued by the shredded pepperoni in particular. With Hormel Foods in mind, he reached out to company leadership last November with what he thought might be an unexplored idea.

Shredded pepperoni really is a Windsor thing. The whole eastern side of Canada knows about it. So I did a quick Google search, sent it up to my boss, and I said, hey this is maybe something we should think about doing.

Greg Witt, Account Executive, Hormel Foods

Shortly after, Witt learned that the company’s Foodservice innovators had already been developing the same concept for over a year; ahead of the curve, as is so often the case. In fact, less than two weeks after Witt’s well-meaning proposal, HORMEL® Ribbon Pepperoni was launched.

“We always want to be driving the conversation on pizza toppings,” said Colby Strilaeff, Foodservice brand manager at Hormel Foods. “Greg reached out, and it was a great idea. His thinking was right in line with ours at the time, and I think that this sort of synergy across the company is testament to the culture of innovation we have here at Hormel Foods. To maintain our status as an industry leader, we have to innovate, and that starts with each and every one of our valued team members.”

Shredded pepperoni is indeed popular in many parts of Canada, but the application is still largely unpracticed in the United States. In that void, the Foodservice team at Hormel Foods sensed an opportunity for innovation.

From Insight to Innovation

HORMEL® Ribbon Pepperoni was designed to make the lives of foodservice operators easier. Escalating labor costs and worker shortages across the United States have intensified the need for back-of-house efficiency and streamlined operations in foodservice. Additionally, the Foodservice team at Hormel Foods identified two major pain points regarding the pepperoni topping:

  1. Round slices of pepperoni take a long time to portion evenly on a pizza.
  2. Round slices aren’t always the best application for non-pizza items, like pastas, salads and sandwiches.

The innovators at Hormel Foods set out to address all of these issues with a single product solution.

“We asked ourselves, what if pepperoni could be handled and applied like shredded mozzarella cheese?” said Blake Flores, innovation team lead for the Foodservice division of Hormel Foods. “We tested pepperoni spirals, we tested different thicknesses of pepperoni, but in the end, ribbons emerged as our favorite presentation.”

The new product not only solved the key pain-points for operators. It was also unique in the marketplace.

“There’s nothing else like it in the market,” Strilaeff said. “The versatility of this product is what makes it such a win for foodservice operators. Ribbon Pepperoni is a timesaver and a game-changer.”

Early Adopters

“With ribbon pepperoni, it feels like we hit it out of the park, and it feels that way because of the response we’ve already heard from operators, who recognize how unique and how innovative this product is,” said Flores. “Any time that we can deliver a win for a foodservice operator, that’s a win for us.”

Restauranteur Casey Harris, one of the early adopters, has already experienced the value of the new product. The owner of Casey’s Pizza and Subs in Port Huron, Michigan, since 2006, Harris is a seasoned pizza professional. But he hadn’t seen anything quite like Ribbon Pepperoni until Hormel Foods account executive Steven Torres brought some to the restaurant for Harris and his staff to sample.

We started cooking it up, and I was like, man this has got a really good flavor. It’s pretty fun that you can spread it across the entire pizza so that every single bite gets a piece of pepperoni, and it has a nice little spice at the end.

Casey Harris, Restauranteur

Within a few weeks of the initial sampling, HORMEL® Ribbon Pepperoni was already on Harris’ menu as part of the all-new “Torres Triple Pepperoni Pizza,” a feast of three HORMEL® pepperoni varieties on top of a traditional Casey’s pie, with hot honey sauce drizzled over the top. The specialty pizza is already popular, Harris said. The entrée’s name even pays homage to the Hormel Foods account executive who inspired the idea.

“Steven (Torres) says, hey you could put all three pepperoni varieties on there and can call it the ‘triple hot’ pizza or something like that, and I thought, hey that’s a good idea,” Harris said. “So we were like, hey we’ll give him a shoutout.”

The “Torres Triple Pepperoni Pizza” may be the first option on Harris’ menu to include ribbon pepperoni, but it may not be the last, as Harris also recognizes the non-pizza potential of the product. Beyond pizza, his restaurant also offers options like subs, wraps, pastas and salads.

“For certain dishes,” Harris said, “it would be a nice thing just to throw on that ribbon pepperoni and let it spread out nicely, versus having to count out 10 or 12 slices of pepperoni and place them all individually. You could just spread it and go. I like the sound of that.”