Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dining through the Decades

Part IV: History of Tony’s® and Red Baron® pizza

June 15, 2017 — By the late 1960s, Schwan’s Company was on the fast track to gaining a prominent role in the frozen-pizza industry. Only, there was one slight problem — the company’s demand had outgrown its ability to meet supply.

At the time, Schwan’s Company depended on contract packers to supply pizzas. Frustrated by Schwan’s lack of control in a promising market, Alfred Schwan (founder Marvin Schwan’s brother), told Marvin, “We should control our destiny and make our own pizza.”

Scouting vacant buildings throughout Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota to set up pizza production, the company eventually ran a simple ad in the Wall Street Journal: “Wanted: Frozen Pizza Manufacturer.”

The plain-speaking ad was a shot in the dark, but it quickly set Schwan’s up with the opportunity to meet an entrepreneur who owned a pizzeria in Salina, Kansas. Tony’s® pizza had long been a staple of the Salina community. It started in the 1960s as a little pizzeria named Tony’s Little Italy.

In 1970, Marvin Schwan purchased that pizza company in Kansas and began sharing its delicious pizza nationwide.

Impressed by its 12,000 square foot production facility, much of the Schwan’s team was convinced their issues meeting demand had ceased.

But within a few months, Schwan’s needed more capacity — and then even more. The plant hardly finished a first addition before ripping up the parking lot to expand again. Marvin’s fiscal conservatism was sometimes at odds with his rapid sales. He scaled back the plans for each facility expansion because he thought the square footage was excessive. As a result, the construction company hired to build a succession of expansions worked continuously on the site for more than 20 years. Today, the pizza manufacturing facility in Salina is at more than 500,000 square feet.

In 1975, Tony’s® pizza had become the best-selling frozen pizza on the market. Competition began to gain traction though, and the team knew that something needed to happen.

Creation of Red Baron® pizza

Schwan’s marketers at the time understood that if you could sell a pizza without an Italian name, you could sell it with any name that caught the buyer’s attention. While on a plane ride home, “Red Baron” came to mind for Tom Caron, who started as a part-time truck loader and was now part of the Schwan’s leadership team.

The name had a sense of nobility and enjoyment, and for a $25 search fee, Caron learned that no one owned the name Red Baron. He quickly registered it as a trademark for pizza. Red Baron® pizza officially launched in 1976 and was first introduced to local taverns with a beer stein on its label.

Eventually, the brand evolved from taverns and was introduced in grocery-store freezers. With that, more elegant artwork began accompanying the brand, which included the incarnation of our "Pizza Baron" and his airplane.

Today, Tony’s® and Red Baron® pizza continue to be popular pizza brands in frozen aisles throughout the United States. Expanding from simple multi-serve frozen pizzas, both brands now carry several varieties including single-serve options.

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