June 8, 2020
In early March, Home Run Inn—the official pizza of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field— began building up its inventory of frozen pizza at its southwest suburban Chicago plant, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit home.
The family owned company was nonetheless unprepared for the surge in demand, as worried consumers loaded up on the stay-at-home staple before hunkering down for the foreseeable future, The Chicago Tribune reports.
“It was absolutely crazy,” said Nick Perrino, 33, who heads up the frozen pizza division for Home Run Inn. “The pandemic had people stocking up on frozen pizza, making sure they had product.”
-year-old pizza empire that grew from a single Chicago tavern, Home Run Inn operates nine restaurants in the city and suburbs, and a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Woodridge, Illinois. Frozen pizza generates about 75% of the company’s revenue, but with its restaurants limited to pickup and delivery since March, the balance has shifted even more dramatically.
Home Run Inn sells frozen pizza in more than 40 states and is the No. 12 brand in sales nationally, according to IRi, a Chicago-based market research firm. It is the number-one -selling frozen pizza in the Chicago area.
“If we could make double, we’d be able to sell double,” said Perrino, whose grandfather began serving pizza at the family’s Little Village tavern in 1947.
Home Run Inn went all in on frozen pizza March 16, shifting to a seven-day production schedule for its 130 line workers. The plant has been churning out about 78,000 frozen pizzas a day, up about a third from the pre-pandemic operation, the Tribune reports.
The company closed the plant for a day on April 6 after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. When it reopened, new protections were implemented including mandatory masks, increased cleaning schedules, and social distancing in the break rooms. Plant workers received a $2 an hour pay boost and an increase in the number of sick days.
In some cases, line workers are closer than 6 feet, but the protective measures generally have been successful, with seven cases of COVID-19 across the company and none since late April, Perrino said.
Manufacturing was backed down to a six-day-a-week schedule in April, when it became clear the new normal in the pizza business may last for a while and the grueling schedule was unsustainable, Perrino said. Demand has flattened in recent weeks, enabling Home Run Inn to resume production on some of its specialty pizzas, such as its classic sausage margherita.
While Illinois and other states are beginning to reopen for business, Perrino said the shift to frozen pizza may endure for some time, as consumers remain wary of venturing beyond their freezer for a sausage and pepperoni pie.
“Habits have changed, ” Perrino said. “Times are uncertain, the economy is uncertain. But one thing we do know is that people always need to eat.”
Research contact: @chicagotribune