Building a disruptive frozen pizza brand, from scratch
Developing food products and brands can take years. So, by the time you're finished, you're far behind what really speaks to consumers. That's why we created a radically faster way of developing food products and brands — one that takes less time by relying more on intuition and rapid prototype testing with a think tank of influential consumers. The result is Outsiders Pizza Company — a breakthrough pizza brand co-developed with Nestlé that went from zero to shelf in under nine months. And the results taste damn good.
The Outsider’s way in
A company’s product is its hardest-working asset. More and more, the products that break through don’t find their audience via traditional communications — they do it by reshaping the category and creating audience excitement. Yet product development in the food space is traditionally a highly technical, waterfall process — one where the final product has been tested and tweaked to death. So it’s no surprise that a large majority of new food products arrive in store feeling a bit stale.
In partnership with Nestlé, we created a faster, more fluid process for prototyping and testing new food brands. Our brief: create a killer product that connects with culture, and leapfrogs the category, in less than half the time it normally takes. With a core Zeus team, along with key Nestlé stakeholders and brand owners, we operated outside the halls of corporate and played by the rules of a start-up.
That meant getting our own space and committing to several months of fast-paced sprints. Our innovation philosophy was simple: move quickly, get to 80% consensus on direction, and use our intuition to move forward when we were stuck.
The objective was not just speed, but cultural relevance. At several points in the project, we used a think tank of tastemakers to help shape and give feedback on our progress. But this wasn’t a focus group — they didn’t just comment on prototypes or recipes. Instead, they’d build and iterate on our work. By asking them to pretend this was their own brand, we gave them ownership of the products. And while we were concepting, we were also working hand-in-hand with Nestlé experts and manufacturing partners to tweak recipes and work on logistical realities. All the parts of the process were happening at once, and they were all changing each other.
Damn Good Pizza — from exotic places like Detroit and Milwaukee
One of our earliest “aha“s happened on a food tour: the idea that there are a million different styles of pizza in this world, and almost all of them are delicious. But the pizzas that tend to get the most shine often come from heralded pizza capitals, places like New York, Chicago, and Naples.
But the truth is that America is as inventive as it is obsessed with pizza, and distinct regional styles of American pizza have popped up all over the place. They just don’t get the same kind of love.
When we tasted pizzas from places like Detroit, Milwaukee, and New Haven, something clicked. These were the familiar and humbly amazing pizza styles that we all grew up with and loved. So we had an idea: let’s create a premium version of these regional styles using nothing but the highest quality ingredients, but without the crafted pretense. And let’s bring a variety of these under-respected regional styles to the masses, carrying forward the same grit and attitude that a lot of these places embody.
“Most premium foods are all about pretentious ingredients and the romance of craft. We wanted to have fun and let the pizza do the talking.”
The age of the Outsider
We live in a culturally fragmented era where almost everyone feels like they’re an outsider. This cultural truth didn’t just apply to our pizza styles, which come from historically-designated “fly-over” places; it also became the foundation of our brand ethos. You don’t have to be well-known or conventionally perfect to be good. In fact, the best things are the ones that are uniquely themselves — unvarnished and one hundred percent original. A tonal direction for the brand was born: let’s celebrate the raw individuality of outsiders all over, with a touch of the confidence and swagger that follows when you fly your flag high.
Show-off on shelf
Most people discover your product on shelf. So why do almost all frozen products look the same? We wanted to stand out by owning our status as the new guy in town.
Through a combination of transparent packaging and a sturdy cardboard band, we not only communicate premium on the outside, but also provide a window into the high quality ingredients inside. The packaging also signals that this product is anything but what you’ve come to expect from the pizza aisle — which is exactly what we set out to be.
Create the pizza apparel you’d like to see in the world
In addition to selling pizza, we wanted to make swag that people actually wanted to wear — not ill-fitting T-shirts that would be immediately relegated to painting and cleaning the garage. So far, our apparel has not only garnered attention, but created demand all its own.
Find us in the freezer, nationally
Results in our test market exceeded expectations — and retailers have signed up nationally to roll out our product in store. Now that we've successfully secured distribution, our next test is getting people all over to find and love our brand. The magic with this product is that the pizza pays off the brand — we use incredible ingredients and the recipes really have a point of view. So, for most people, all it takes to become an Outsiders evangelist is to taste it. "I can't believe this is frozen pizza" is the best compliment we can possibly receive — and, fortunately, it's something we hear pretty often. With Outsiders, the proof of our success is something you can taste.