The Untold Truth Of DiGiorno

Something as easy as frozen pizza shouldn't have such a storied past. But DiGiorno, the frozen pizza company known for its tagline knocking delivered pizza, has seen several successes and a few blunders in its 25-year history.

Starting with the original rising crust pepperoni pizza in 1995, DiGiorno became one of the top-selling frozen pizza brands, growing large enough to rebrand as Delissio in Canada in 1999 and be bought out by Nestle in 2010.

But it hasn't been all roses for DiGiorno. While the pizza brand has created some welcome additions to the brand, like stuffed crust and garlic bread pizza, there have been some questionable new products. Wingz, for one. And no one could claim the stuff is any good for you.

A few public misfires have haunted DiGiorno as well, including a connection to farm animal cruelty, Tweeting without thinking, and that time boxes of frozen pizza covered all lanes of westbound Interstate 30 in Arkansas in 2017.

Though the frozen pizza giant is doing better than ever in 2020, it's still fun to look back at the victories and backfires of DiGiorno.

DiGiorno was Kraft's answer to the rising popularity of frozen pizza in the 1990s

DiGiorno was definitely a product of its time. According to USA Today, grocery stores started selling frozen pizzas in the northeastern U.S. in the early 1950s, thanks to the common household refrigerator. A patent was granted in 1954 by Joseph Bucci, and within the decade, the New England trend had spread throughout the country.

Then Rose Totino hit the game in the 1960s. Then the Red Baron line of frozen pizzas in the 1970s. And then, DiGiorno came on the scene and quickly eclipsed the frozen pizza section of most local grocery stores. Kraft launched DiGiorno frozen pizza in 1995 and it quickly became a hit with the promise of that rising crust. That's right, it could pass for delivery.

USA Today notes that DiGiorno is the best-selling frozen pizza on the planet, and when it comes to frozen pizza sales, DiGiorno takes up about half the market.

Now, Oprah Winfrey's brand of frozen pizza — O, That's Good! — is gaining on the oven-ready giant that is DiGiorno.

Nestlé acquired DiGiorno in 2010

But things continued to progress for DiGiorno beyond the '90s and Nestlé acquired the company in spring 2010. Exactly 3,620 Kraft Foods' pizza employees and "their valuable talent and category expertise," joined the Nestlé Group — according to a press release issued by the Swiss corporation in March of that year.

The purchase was actually a strategic move by Nestlé, as it had only a small presence in North America's frozen pizza game before that point. It also owned Stouffer's French Bread Pizza, which isn't necessarily considered pizza in some circles. The acquisition of the extremely popular American frozen pizza brand was to also give Nestlé the opportunity to "leverage its pizza-making know-how in Europe."

But when DiGiorno became a Nestlé product, certain ingredients had to be manipulated to be "brought in compliance with Nestlé's nutritional standards," according to The New York Times Magazine. Namely, the sodium levels were off the charts and the dough was the culprit.

No, DiGiorno's pizza isn't very healthy for you

As Nestle was taking on DiGiorno in 2010, a problem was quickly spotlighted. The dough's sodium content was above average, as was dramatically documented by The New York Times Magazine.

According to the American Heart Association, nine out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium, and more than 70 percent of that comes from processed and restaurant foods. While a high sodium diet may cause puffiness, bloating, and weight gain, it can also put you at risk for osteoporosis, stroke, heart failure, and even stomach cancer.

Turns out the above-normal sodium content in the crust was caused by the baking powder Kraft used for the signature "rising" dough. Eventually, Paul Bakus, a Nestle executive, and his team created a reduced-sodium DiGiorno pizza crust within a year and a half of the Nestlé takeover.

But to the health-conscious consumers of today, the nutritional information for a traditional crust pepperoni pizza from DiGiorno may be this side of offensive. If you're looking for a healthier alternative in the traditional DiGiorno pizza, Shape Magazine and Huffington Post recommend DiGiorno Thin & Crispy Spinach and Garlic.

DiGiorno's cheese used to be sourced from an abusive dairy farm

All this talk of pizza and we have yet to mention cheese, and maybe DiGiorno prefers it that way. It wasn't all that long ago that their cheese made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

An animal rights group Mercy for Animals released a video shot undercover in 2013 depicting severe animal abuse at Wiese Brothers' Farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin. To quickly tick off the mistreatment, the Chicago Tribune reported that the cows were subjected to such abuse as being beaten and stabbed before being dragged by a tractor. 

This was bad news for frozen pizza fans as it turned out that the Wiese Brothers' Farm supplied the cheese for Nestle pizzas — i.e. DiGiorno.

At the time, Nestlé spokesperson Deborah Cross said the company is dedicated to the humane handling of animals — citing Nestlé's Responsible Sourcing Guidelines. DiGiorno's parent company quickly cut off its supply of Wiese farm cheese.

Before you even ask, yes, the employees were terminated, and, in a statement, the Wiese family said it was "shocked and saddened" by the video — according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Today, the mozzarella used on a DiGiorno is still 100 percent sourced from the Midwest — just not Wiese Brothers' Farm.

DiGiorno's "wyngz" aren't what you think they are

If there was one perfect food to pair with pizza, wings would definitely be a strong contender. And boneless wings — or more like glorified nuggets — have been slowing stealing the spotlight from traditional wings. So much so that DiGiorno introduced its Pizza & Boneless Wyngz combo box in 2011.

And DiGiorno's spelling choice of "wyngz" isn't just the marketing department's effort to be cool either. The spelling is actually government-mandated, specifically by the United States Department of Agriculture, because this poultry heavy side doesn't actually contain any meat from the chicken's wing. Uh oh.

According to Mental Floss, wyngz are a chicken fritter product. That means they're made with white-meat chicken, but not necessarily wing-meat chicken. Upon hitting the shelves early last decade, The Colbert Report was quick to feature the zany DiGiorno spinoff on the "Thought For Food" segment.

And in addition to the spelling requirement, DiGiorno had even more rules to follow.

A cutting post from the Quirky Cookery outlined a few more stipulations, including how the chicken product must still contain white meat, and how "wyngz" has to be in the same color font and not hidden inconspicuously on the packaging. And don't overlook that asterisk, it leads to more details on what these wyngz actually contain.

It that wasn't enough, there was also a very short-lived Facebook page dedicated to boycotting Digiorno Wyngz, citing consumer deception.

In Canada, DiGiorno is called Delissio

Washroom, parkade, knapsack, and now Delissio. Yes, DiGiorno goes under a different name in the frozen food section of the frozen north.

According to Mental Floss, Nestlé owns both DiGiorno and Delissio because it was a package deal and Kraft sold frozen pizza in Canada as Delissio as far back as the '80s.

When Nestle took over in 2010, they decided to keep the alternate brand name instead of pulling a switcheroo on a whole country. But don't worry, those looking into dual citizenship or a long stayover in Winnipeg, Delissio offers the same features as its American counterpart. It's known for its rise-in-the-oven crust, and uses the same marketing language. Meaning up there, the commercials end with, "It's not delivery, it's Delissio."

The best part of Delissio may be its cheerful website, spouting off Canada-specific facts like "40 million DELISSIO pizzas are sliced at Canadian pizza nights every year!" and "Nestlé is a proud partner of Food Banks Canada."

DiGiorno had a big social media snafu in 2014

We can tell DiGiorno has some fun online. There's that time the brand Twitter live-tweeted during The Sound of Music Live airing in 2013, for instance. They clap back at other brands, joke around with customers, and just put random thoughts out into the Twittersphere (a recent Tweet simply asks, "Pizza sauce a blood type?")

But in September 2014, the timing was off. Way off.

In the wake of NFL running back Ray Rice's assault on then-fiancee Janay Palmer, the hashtag #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft was being used on Twitter to hold something of an international conversation about domestic violence, and for people to share their stories of abuse and survival.

Then DiGiorno chimed in with "#WhyIStayed You had pizza." Angry responses were swift, with many accusing the pizza maker of shameless promotion. Turns out, the social team just hadn't looked into the hashtag's meaning and then tried to explain the misstep, writing: "A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting."

Nestlé spokesperson Roz O'Hearn had to get involved and released a statement on the matter. "This tweet was a mistake, quickly realized as such and deleted seconds later," she said in a statement reported by the Huffington Post. "Our community manager — and the entire DiGiorno team — is truly sorry. The tweet does not reflect our values and we've been personally responding to everyone who has engaged with us on social media. We apologize."

An 18-wheeler blew DiGiorno all over the interstate

For a few days in August of 2017, headlines across the country read some rendition of the same message — "It's not delivery. It's DiGiorno Pizza ... spilled on I-30."

On August 9, 2017, AP News reported that an 18-wheeler seemingly packed to the brim with DiGiorno and Tombstone frozen pizzas scraped a bridge support, which caused the trailer to blast boxes of frozen pizza across all westbound lanes of Interstate 30 just south of Little Rock, Arkansas. The photos speak for themselves on the level of the mess this bridge scraping created.

The accident happened to have occurred right in front of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, from which spokesman Danny Straessle said, "the bridge suffered only cosmetic damage." Straessle also was quoted as saying a "slippery spot" was left on a good chunk of I-30 from all the pizza sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and a little bit of spilled diesel.

While no one was hurt, I-30 was closed for four hours heading west, and one hour heading east, while crews cleared away hundreds of destroyed pizza boxes.

An Indiana Little Caesars allegedly served DiGiorno pizzas in 2018

Indiana is known for many things — Larry Bird, the great city of Indianapolis, and that time a Little Caesars in Griffith was accused of blatantly serving DiGiorno pizzas.

It was 2018, and a quick video depicted a shopping cart of DiGiorno frozen pizzas behind the counter at a K-Mart location of Little Caesars. The videographer was Vincent Romero, who captioned the video with, "This can't be happening right in front of me," and posted it to Twitter.

The views reached and passed 4 million.

Not to spoil the fun, but a Kmart spokeswoman Jill Proctor quickly told papers and media outlets the pizzas were a Kmart thing, not a Little Caesars thing. According to Proctor, Kmart was throwing out the expired DiGiorno pizzas at the time the video was shot. Regardless of the reason behind those DiGiorno boxes, the situation turned everyone into quite the comedian.

According to Vice, DiGiorno tweeted a few hours later, "We're just as curious as you."  Little Caesars then responded — albeit a very delayed response — with "Apparently, this store has a trade-in program." To which DiGiorno replied, "Two days to come up with that? Really?"

Even model Chrissy Teigen had to take a jab, posting the video to Twitter with the comment, "the only little caesars I wanna go to."

DiGiorno's slogan has evolved with the times

Aside from the rising crust feature, DiGiorno is best known for its tagline "It's not delivery. It's DiGiorno." This is the line from pizza commercials in the '90s and into the millennium, and it's still stamped proudly at the top of its frozen pizza products.

But has the slogan changed over time? Not the wording so much as its attitude? Has it become a little bit aggressive?

A 2019 article from Eater argues that DiGiorno's slogan has undergone a natural progression, as the pizza delivery concept has lost a bit of its shine. Gone are the days when babysitters or the oldest sibling being left two $20s to order pizza was something to get excited about. We can now order just about any food we want thanks to third-party delivery apps. Pizza delivery at this point is so common, we almost take it for granted. To brag that it's not delivery, it's DiGiorno, is not saying much anymore. So, the Nestle product had to be more hard-hitting with its message to keep up.

The author of the Eater article highlights a 2013 ad where DiGiorno showcases an insanely irresponsible delivery driver, and slightly alters the famed catchphrase to, "Thankfully it's not delivery, it's DiGiorno." DiGiorno still uses its same old slogan, only now delivery isn't the measurement of pizza perfection. 

In 2019, DiGiorno made its first forays into the plant-based meat trend

While DiGiorno offers a handful of vegetarian options — meaning their usual frozen pizzas only topped with a variety of vegetables and cheese — the company decided to take things one step further for its vegetarian customers.

In December 2019, VegNews announced a pizza topped with meat alternative would be released in spring 2020 in tandem with another Nestle product, Stouffer's Meatless Lasagna. Both products were highlighted as featuring Awesome Grounds — a plant-based meat substitute created by Sweet Earth.

To get technical, Awesome Grounds is made from yellow pea protein, wheat gluten, and canola and coconut oils. It's textured to resemble ground beef and holds 16 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per serving.

"There's no denying the current modern food movement is revolutionizing the plant-based space," president of the Nestle foods division John Carmichael said in a statement. "By adding Sweet Earth Awesome Grounds to Stouffer's and Digiorno offerings, we're able to offer our customers the chance to incorporate plant-based meals into their diets while still enjoying the same convenience and delicious flavor of brands they know and trust."

But, sorry vegans, you'll have to continue to wait for a meat and dairy-free version of a DiGiorno pizza.

DiGiorno made a major comeback during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic frozen pizza became a freezer staple and Digiorno's sales haven't slowed down  — at all. In fact, the opposite is true.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Nestle has seen its frozen food products rise steadily in popularity because of the lockdown.

By May 16, Americans had spent more than $15.5 billion on frozen food at the grocery store. CNN Business says the Nielsen data reports this to be a 40.2 percent increase from the same period last year. In addition, the Nielsen data shows freezer sales, as in the large home appliance, are also up, jumping to 195 percent compared to April of 2019.

This is a result of the worldwide restaurant closures, and shopper's need for comfort food as COVID-19 spreads.

Even the president of Nestlé Food Division John Carmichael is impressed, noting how DiGiorno saw major sales spikes over several months. "It's a robust category that is getting the biggest trial event in its history," he said.