The Untold Truth Of Red Baron Pizza

Let's be honest. For many of us, the first time we saw the name "Red Baron" was probably because of a certain beagle from the Sunday comics. As we got older, we might have learned about the real Red Baron during history class but in all likelihood, he was only a part of a larger lesson on World War I. So, it might be a little confusing that a company would choose this name for a brand of frozen pizzas. After all, what do pizzas have to do with flying or World War I or even the Peanuts comic strip?

The good news is there are answers to these questions — although maybe not the ones you're expecting. But first, let's talk about pizza because who doesn't love pizza? No, seriously, according to Schwan's, the company that manufactures Red Baron pizza, 98% of Americans eat pizza, making pizza a $50.6 billion industry. And frozen pizza makes up about 14% of that market, meaning its slice of the pie (no pun intended) is approximately $7.1 billion.

Now, of course, there are quite a few brands of frozen pizza, but the ones bearing the name Red Baron have been a competitive force. In 2017, Red Baron pizza brought in more than $570 million in annual sales (via CNBC and Statista). So, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, what is the deal with this pizza? Why has it remained so popular for decades? And why is it called Red Baron? It's time we find out.

Who was the real Red Baron?

Before we can dive into the history of Red Baron pizza, we need to talk about Manfred von Richthofen. Yes, that is the name of the World War I fighter pilot and aristocrat known as the Red Baron although he also went by nicknames like "the Red Knight" and "the Red Battle Flier" (via History). And if you're picking up on a theme here, the word "red" became so synonymous with von Richthofen because he painted his plane a shade of red that was reminiscent of blood.

Beyond his plane's paint job, what made von Richthofen stand out was his skills as a fighter pilot. According to History, over the course of two years, von Richthofen had "80 confirmed aerial victories." This was a record not just for those who like von Richthofen fought for the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire) but also for those fighting for the Allied Powers (France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Romania, Russia, and the U.S.) (via History).

So if the real Red Baron fought against the U.S. during WWI, then why would any company in the United States use that name on their product? We're getting there, but it's important to note that von Richthofen's skills were recognized by both the Central and the Allied Powers during the war. As History explains, after he died in battle, it was members of the Allied Powers' military that had a funeral for him with full military honors.

Pop culture and the Red Baron

As History notes, the Red Baron's legend didn't die with Manfred von Richthofen. Instead, he began showing up in different forms of entertainment. This included the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz where beginning in 1965, the Red Baron became the arch-nemesis of Snoopy ... at least in Snoopy's mind (via Schulz Museum). Known for his active imagination, Snoopy often pretended he was a World War I Flying Ace, dogfighting the Red Baron from atop his doghouse while shouting "Curse you, Red Baron!"

Snoopy's Flying Ace comics became so popular that when the Peanuts were expanded to other forms of media, the Red Baron came along for the ride. In 2015, Blue Sky Studios produced "The Peanuts Movie" where Snoopy as the Flying Ace must rescue his love interest Fifi (voice by Kristin Chenoweth) from the Red Baron.

And beyond the silver screen, Snoopy and the Red Baron's exploits have been the subject of songs by the group The Royal Guardsmen (via YouTube). These include "Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron" where Snoopy shoots down the Red Baron's plane, "The Return of the Red Baron" where Snoopy and the Red Baron face each other on foot, and "Snoopy's Christmas" where the Red Baron spares Snoopy in honor of the holiday. So, it's safe to say that the Red Baron had become a part of pop culture by the time a certain food company was launching its new frozen pizza line.

The company who created Red Baron Pizza started out by selling ice cream

Although the Schwan family established their business in 1948, it would be almost 30 years before Red Baron pizzas hit the market (via Schwan's Company). In fact, the company, which was originally called the Schwan's Dairy, started out not by making cheesy pizzas but by selling another product made from cow's milk: ice cream.

According to the Schwan's Company's website, it was Marvin Schwan who created the home delivery aspect of his family's business in 1952 by filling his 1946 Dodge panel van with dry ice. This allowed him to transport and sell 14 gallons of ice cream. While that might sound small, it was a big step in a profitable direction for the dairy. Soon, they expanded their offerings to include juice, fish, and sandwiches. Of course, this meant purchasing trucks and opening new operation facilities, however, the investment paid off, and the once local dairy became a multimillion-dollar company with locations in eight different states.

By 1966, Schwan's began entering the frozen pizza market (via Schwan's Company). But things took a turn for the worst in 1974 when their corporate headquarters, distribution center, and ice cream plant were all lost to a fire. Remaining in Minnesota, the company entered the foods service industry, providing frozen pizzas to schools. Finally, in 1976, the company launched its Red Baron pizza, which quickly became one of its most successful products.

Why is the pizza is called Red Baron?

That's the million-dollar question (or maybe it's billion considering how much money the pizza industry makes annually). But according to Mel Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, Schwan's spokesperson Chuck Blomberg, stated, "Any similarities in appearance between our baron and an actual person would be coincidental." So, wait, then the pilot mascot on Red Baron pizza isn't the actual Red Baron?

The answer is more complicated than yes or no. True, the Red Baron pizza mascot doesn't look like Manfred von Richthofen, but it is important to remember that by 1976, the name Red Baron had become legendary, appearing in different forms of media (via History). Even children knew the name because of Snoopy. In short, the name "Red Baron" was not only well-known but also conjured up a different time and place — albeit an often romanticized version of it.

Just as von Richthofen doesn't resemble the pilot on Red Baron pizza products, Schwan's also used a different type of plane for their marketing campaign. Yes, Schwan's actually had a squadron that performed at airshows to advertise their frozen pizza (via Aerobatic Team). But these planes were Stearman biplanes, which were used in the military in WWII (via American Heritage). However, von Richthofen flew an Albatros D.III fighter plane, which has three sets of wings instead of two (via

Red Baron Pizza helped sponsor 15 college football teams

Although Red Baron pizza is one of Schwan's top products, it's not their only brand of frozen pizza (via Schwan's Company). Roughly six years before Schwan's introduced Red Baron, it purchased Tony's pizza, a brand that exists alongside Red Baron pizza to this day (via Schwan's Company). In fact, Schwan's currently has five different pizza brands in addition to its footholds in other food markets like Bibigo, Mrs. Smith's, Edwards, Pagoda, and Minh. So, it's not surprising that in 2013, more than one Schwan's pizza brand was part of a marketing campaign involving college sports (via Business Wire).

In addition to Red Baron and Tony's, Schwan's Freschetta pizza brand became the sponsor of 15 different university football teams. During the promotion, which lasted from September to November, Red Baron ran two contests. One was a weekly sweepstakes where one person would win $1,000. The second was the "Get a Taste of the Tradition" photo contest where the grand prize was a year's supply of Red Baron pizza.

Besides contests, Red Baron, as an official sponsor of college sports, engaged football fans through both social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as more traditional media like radio. The teams, which spanned 13 states, included a team from Schwan's home state of Minnesota.

There's also a sports arena named after Red Baron Pizza

After Schwan's lost their headquarters, their distribution center, and their ice cream plant to a fire in 1974, the company explored leaving not just Marshall, Minnesota, but moving their operations to South Dakota (via Schwan's). However, they decided to stay and rebuild, making Marshall the home of Red Baron pizza when it launched roughly two years later. And in 2015, Red Baron pizza's connection to Marshall became even stronger when the Marshall Amateur Regional Sports Hub (MARSH) and The Schwan Regional Amateur Sports Center was renamed the Red Baron Arena & Expo (via Business Wire).

"Our heritage is rooted in Marshall, Minnesota, so it's an honor for us to have our iconic Red Baron pizza brand associated with this outstanding arena," said Dimitrios Smyrnios, CEO of Schwan's. Although Red Baron pizza was part of a college football sponsorship program in 2013, the Schwan's brand is better known for supporting Minnesota-located hockey venues. So naturally, the Arena & Expo was specially designed to support ice hockey, as well as other ice skating-related activities (MARSH official website).

While normally the Arena has one sheet of ice in addition to its expo area, that changes during hockey season when they expand to two sheets of ice. In addition to hockey, the Red Baron Arena & Expo is also the location for the Southwest Minnesota Figure Skating club's performance show.

Red Baron Pizza went retro for its 40th anniversary

No matter what part of the food industry a product is a part of, there's no guarantee that popularity and success will last forever. Just ask Beefsteak Charlies, Chi-Chi's, and other once loved chain restaurants that have gone out of business. So, it's noteworthy when a product reaches a milestone birthday. And Schwan's was not about to let one of its most popular brand's 40th go by without a celebration.

Yes, Red Baron pizza has been around for more than 40 years, and in 2016, Schwan's ran a 40-week campaign that involved both television and social media (via Business Wire). Entitled "Timeless," the focus of this campaign was to show how Red Baron pizza has been a constant part of family life. The roughly 30 second TV commercial begins with a little girl from the 1970s having Red Baron pizza with her family (via YouTube). The scene changes to the girl being a teenager in the 1980s who is annoyed by her family but still enjoying her Red Baron pizza. The final scene is the character, a now-grown adult, having Red Baron pizza with her own family.

Besides the TV commercial, Schwan's launched a website where visitors could explore different decades via a virtual oven dial. The company also incorporated social media into their "Timeless" campaign, engaging online influencers and bloggers in part by launching new social media channels specifically for the event.

Red Baron introduced a pizza Baroness

The year after Red Baron pizza turned 40, Schwan's tried a new marketing strategy where the brand's mustachioed pilot mascot was swapped out for a woman (via Multivu). Although there were some key changes to her wardrobe like sporting aviator sunglasses instead of a leather flight cap with goggles, the Baroness did wear a long, red scarf and a leather bomber jacket like her male counterpart. However, a closer examination of that jacket reveals why Schwan's picked a female character for this campaign.

Since the Baroness was designed to appeal to mothers, her bomber jacket was covered with patches connected to motherhood. These included "Tantrum Slayer," "Bake Sale Participant," "Eat Your Pizza," and "Where's My Phone." In fact, the patches played a role in a roughly 30-second commercial entitled "War Stories" where the Baroness trades stories with a fellow mother (via YouTube). "I survived a standoff with a 4-year-old over broccoli" the Baroness tells the mother while pointing to her "Clean Plate Club" patch. The mother counters with "Rescued favorite toy from garbage disposal." Their friendly back and forth continues until the Baroness gives the mother one of her patches.

Besides being prominently featured in the "War Stories" commercial, the Baroness' patches were available online as part of Schwan's marketing campaign. Mothers were also encouraged to share their real-life experiences online and hashtag their posts with #WingMama.

Red Baron released a special pizza for Cinco de Mayo

While we usually think of pizza having only so many toppings, there's actually a wide variety, ranging from popular choices like pepperoni to unusual ones like venison. So, if you have a pizza business and want to continue to expand it, introducing new and even unexpected toppings can be a good strategy. Case in point: Red Baron Classic Crust Mexican Style Pizza.

Although Schwan's originally tested out this non-traditional pizza for a limited time in 2000, the company brought it back for 2013's Cinco de Mayo celebrations (via Business Wire). And while the Classic Crust Mexican Style Pizza has mozzarella cheese and is topped with tomatoes and red peppers, that's where its similarities to other Red Baron products end. Schwan's swapped out marinara sauce for a spicy sauce. Its toppings included cheddar cheese, "Mexican style sausage," and veggies like onions and peppers.

In addition, to bringing back the Classic Crust Mexican Style Pizza, Red Baron introduced three new products that same month (via Business Wire). The Fire Baked Spicy Pepperoni gave a classic pizza topping a twist by incorporating jalapeños and chipotle sauce into the recipe. The other two were variations on a Hawaiian Style pizza, one being a full-sized pie with a "Classic Crust" and the other being "Deep Dish Singles." And, yes, both versions are topped with pineapple and Canadian bacon.

Red Baron Pizza expanded its products during the pandemic

Did you know that October is National Pizza Month? Not surprising since all but 2% of Americans eat pizza on a regular basis (via Schwan's). So, Schwan's decided to launch two new Red Baron pizza products at the beginning of October of 2020 when people were eating at home more often due to COVID concerns and restrictions.

"With more families eating at home right now, we're providing busy and time-strapped parents with even more mealtime solutions ..." said Schwan's Consumer Product, Inc. Marketing Director Sara Brohl (via Business Insider). For this product launch, Schwan's decided to go with one established and one drastically new meal option. On the one hand, the company came out with rectangular stuffed crust pizza in three varieties: pepperoni, a Four Cheese blend (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone), and a Meat-Trio (pepperoni, sausage, and smoked ham) (via Red Baron). While stuffed crust pizzas might be considered less traditional than other pizza options like meatballs or extra cheese, it has been around for quite a while. Pizza Hut's version, for example, has been on the market for over 20 years.

Besides stuffed crust pizza, Schwan's also introduced Red Baron Pizza Melts, which are like pizza sandwiches. And like the stuffed crust pizza, the company produced more than one type of Pizza Melt: Pepperoni, Four Cheese, and Supreme, which has onions, pepperoni, sausage, and red and green peppers (via Red Baron).

Red Baron Pizza regularly launches new products during National Pizza Month

Today, Schwan's has become an affiliate of food manufacturer and distributor CJCJ Foods, Americas (via PRNewswire). Yes, the days of delivering ice cream in a Dodge panel van are well behind the company (via Schwan's Company). But that doesn't mean Schwan's is discontinuing their time-tested successes.

According to CJCJ Foods, Americas, Schwan's again used National Pizza Month to launch their latest Red Baron product: Fully Loaded pizza. And like their 2020 product launches (via Business Insider), this new pizza offering comes in more than one variety. Besides pepperoni (a pizza classic), Red Baron Fully Loaded Pizza also comes in a five-cheese blend of Asiago, cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, and provolone. In addition, Schwan's has released a Fully Loaded version of their Supreme Pizza, which is topped with onions, pepperoni, sausage, and red and green peppers, as well as both mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.

Like previous promotions, Schwan's used social media to engage the public about their latest Red Baron pizzas by hosting a contest through Instagram where 100 lucky winners would win free pizza. And if new forms of media take off in the future, it's very likely Schwan's will incorporate them into their marketing as they expand their pizza portfolio. In other words, we've probably not seen the last of a certain "Red Baron."