The Evolution of the Pizza Delivery Box

Thursday Aug 4, 2016

Most pizza fanatics will agree that nothing can compare to pizza served directly from the oven, but a pizza delivered directly to your door might be a close second. And with more than 1 billion pizzas delivered each year, it’s pretty clear that it’s not just pizza fanatics who think this way. Each pizza delivered arrives in a ubiquitous cardboard box, however, if it weren’t for this simple box, pizza delivery would have a completely different look.

Let’s take a few minutes to reflect on the history and evolution of the pizza delivery box. You may even discover a newfound appreciation for the way your pizza arrives ready to eat.

The Humble Beginnings of Pizza Delivery

In the early 1800s, bakers transported bread and pizzas in small copper containers called stufas. Often, bakers employed young boys to go from neighborhood to neighborhood with these stufas to sell the scraps or leftovers from the day’s baking for extra profit.

A Century of Change

Move ahead 100 years, and pizza is catching on in New York and other industrialized American cities. Pizza, rolled into a cone and wrapped in paper, met the industrial workers’ need for an easily portable meal. Sold at room temperature, the pizzas were easily reheated later in the day in the factory furnace. These small breads were readily available for pick up at the bakery counters in Italian immigrant neighborhoods, usually on the way to work, so no fancy packaging was required.

Pizza Delivery Is In the Bag

Post-WWII, interest in — some say love of — pizza dramatically increased upon the return of American GIs from Italy, so many pizzerias began to offer take-out pies. The pizza would rest on a piece of stiff, corrugated cardboard at the bottom of a paper bag. This method has been used at Federici’s in Freehold, New Jersey since 1946.

In the 1950s the pizza business continued to boom, and as pizza delivery orders began to stack up, well, the bags didn’t. Paperboard bakery-type boxes were first used, but this material couldn’t withstand the intense moisture created by a hot pizza, resulting in a weakened box that collapsed under its own weight.

Pizza Delivery Catches On

As you might expect, one of the biggest leaps in the evolution of the pizza box took place with the emergence of delivery-only pizza chains. With a goal of timely pizza delivery without sacrificing quality in mind, the development of a proper box for transportation became important. It turned out to be more difficult than expected to devise a container that had the right qualities – foldable yet strong enough to hold its form. The resulting box became the standard for pizza delivery.

Even with years of innovation, a simple cardboard box is still the best way to transport pizza. Is it the end of evolution for the pizza delivery box? Some say if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Still, others continue to push the envelope, determined to solve problems such as heat loss or steam release.