The Pizza Roll is perhaps the most versatile food of all. What are we going to have for dinner? Pizza Rolls. And lunch? Pizza Rolls. What about breakfast and mid-afternoon snack and midnight snack and maybe even early morning snack? Pizza Rolls, Pizza Rolls and even more Pizza Rolls. There’s something about the accessibility of it all, of only two minutes in the microwave that yields a plate of steaming hot sauce and cheese. Something so magical about burning the tip of your tongue and the roof of your mouth and getting a slick film of grease all over your thumb and forefinger. If you microwave them for too long, they’ll explode and leave the messiest of stains all over vents and plastic and it’s okay because you’re getting Pizza Rolls at the end of the whole affair. America runs on pizza the same way it runs on Dunkin and the same way it runs on Flaming Hot Cheetos and apple pie and mostly, I know Pizza Rolls are so quintessentially American because when I spent my freshman year of high school abroad in Qatar, Pizza Rolls were wrapped in wax paper and sold by the piece to a long line that spanned a block and a half.
What makes Pizza Rolls so endearing? Is it because every Super Bowl halftime set of commercials contains at least one Totino’s Pizza Roll advertisement? Not all of us had cable TV growing up and not all of us understood the rules of football enough to spend an entire Sunday afternoon glued to the screen. Maybe it’s because there’s been “Saturday Night Live” after “Saturday Night Live” skit with Pizza Rolls as the star, except not all of us stay up that late and not all of us think they’re very funny.
The answer lies in snacking and in snacks as a means of joy. We’re a nation built on snacks.
Recent data shows that 96% of Americans have had a snack in the past day with the average person indulging in 3 to 4 snacks. The legacy of the Pizza Roll has made it this far because the polls show that 89% of consumers can definitively say they either love or like pizza, and it consistently scores in the 100th percentile for all demographics regardless of gender, age or income level. Pizza is for the people. And the Pizza Roll is simply a reflection of what the people want.
The Pizza Roll was the apparent brainchild of Jeno Paulucci, who invented them in 1968 and sold them as Jeno’s Pizza Rolls until the Pillsbury company bought the rights in 1985. And from Pillsbury came Totino’s Pizza Rolls, also otherwise known as the absolute superstar of all Pizza Rolls in every frozen food category. Totino’s has such a big claim to fame, since they trademarked the name “Pizza Rolls,” meaning anything other than Totino’s isn’t really the real deal. In attempting to explore the everlasting popularity of the Pizza Roll, it is not enough to search within the various other deviations of Pizza Rolls that exist in frozen food aisles across America, because Totino’s frozen Pizza Rolls in particular hold a monopoly over more than 26% of all sales of frozen appetizers/snacks in most every store spanning the United States. The legacy of the Pizza Roll begins, and will hopefully never end, with Totino’s.
But how has the company so deftly managed to curate and maintain its legacy after nearly half a century? How and why has the Pizza Roll maintained relevance even at the simplest level of marketing?
Most consumers find themselves turning to Pizza Rolls as a conglomeration of childhood nostalgia, of after school and recess and nap time and the first grade, and Totino’s knows it. This is why over the last two years, they recently began to direct their advertisements to a whole new demographic — and this time it’s not parents and aunts and uncles, but millennials and Gen Z. Gone are the days of stressing the reasonably-priced pitch of buy-our-product-your-child-will-love-it-and-it’s-a healthy-snack-to-boot. Because we’ve begun to enter the workforce and it’s just us and our debit or credit card or Venmo against the world and we’ll gladly spend it on Pizza Rolls no questions asked. Totino’s interactions with consumers are shaped by customers’ desires becoming far more playful and accessible, with approaches to branding and marketing falling directly in line with what consumers have voiced. The people have spoken and Totino’s has listened.
Everybody loves pizza, mostly everyone loves Pizza Rolls and Totino’s has kept the dream alive.
MiC Columnist Sarah Akaaboune can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.