Why were we putting round pizzas in square boxes, anyway?

By Jelisa Castrodale
October 22, 2019

"Since the beginning of time, pizza boxes were square," Pizza Hut said on Tuesday, in an announcement that could reshape (literally) everything we know about how to transport a pizza: The chain is testing a round pizza box. Pizza Hut is introducing these circular boxes at one restaurant location in Phoenix, and it is also debuting its new Garden Specialty Pizza which is topped with MorningStar Farms' plant-based Incogmeato sausage, in another nod to more eco-friendly pizza practices.

Pizza Hut

"This revolutionary round box—the result of a two-year journey—is the most innovative packaging we’ve rolled out to date," Nicolas Burquier, Pizza Hut's chief customer & operations officer, said in a statement. "The round box was engineered to make our products taste even better, by delivering hotter, crispier pizzas. This box is a win, win—it will improve the pizza-eating experience for our customers and simplify the operating experience for our team members."

Pizza Hut's round box is the result of a partnership with Zume, a company with a focus on sustainable food packaging. Pizza Hut says that these round boxes contain less material than traditional square boxes, and they're also compostable. "The round boxes are made of sustainably harvested plant fiber and are compostable in industrial facilities. Industrial facility standards and availability vary city by city," a Pizza Hut spokesperson told Food & Wine. Although, just like traditional pizza boxes, the greasy ones can't be recycled. "If you had unused round boxes, you could recycle them," the spokesperson continued.

Pizza Hut

And, although we're stoked about any kind of pizza-related innovation, Pizza Hut's isn't officially the first of its kind.

In the summer of 2010, Apple—yes, that Apple—filed a patent application for a round pizza box, one made from a single piece of material that could be nested and stacked for easy storage. According to the two co-inventors, Francesco Longoni, the head of the food services team at Apple, and Mark Doutt, a senior packaging engineer, there are a number of benefits to putting a round pizza inside a round box.

For starters, they said that a round box helps the pizza keep its shape while it's being transported, and the small ridges on the bottom of the box would provide enough space between the pie and the carton to keep the crust from getting cold or soggy. "In this way, while enclosed within pizza container, the pizza can remain fresh and crisp and hot for an extended period of time," Apple explained in its description of the box. Apple filed a second patent application in early 2016, and the patent was granted in December of that year. However, Apple's round boxes were designed to be used in its employee cafeterias, and on the Apple Park campus, so not impacting, say, an entire national chain.

In 2017, Zume announced it had created a round-ish pizza box, one with a circular lid and a flat base. The bottom of the box had ridges to keep the pizza crispier and hotter longer, and the lid was designed to absorb steam from that hot pie. The boxes could also be nested and stacked for easy sto– hey, wait a second! (Pizza Hut's Zume-created box looks a bit like they've just snapped all four bottom corners off of Zume's original box to make it completely round.)

And last year, a company called World Centric also released a compostable round pizza container made from plant-based materials. Its Pizza Round promised—say it with us—a hotter, less soggy pie, and it also had raised ridges on the bottom, "grease grooves" to collect any pep-and-cheese runoff, and could be neatly stacked for storage and transport.

Pizza Hut's Garden Specialty Pizza and the round box—complete with a temporarily green-roofed logo—will be available at the Pizza Hut located at 3602 E. Thomas Road tomorrow from 11:00 a.m. until they run out of either item. All of the proceeds from the sale of the round pie in the round box will be donated to Arizona Forward, the state's leading sustainability organization. After that, the Hut says that it will be looking at "ways to roll the box out more widely in the near future."

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