LaRosa’s Pizzeria has grown significantly from its humble roots—started in 1954 on Cincinnati’s west side by Buddy LaRosa, and now a $167-million restaurant company with 66 pizzerias serving neighborhoods in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Now, the pizzeria continues its modern-day innovation by launching fully plant-based pizza at all 66 locations, featuring toppings such as vegan pepperoni, vegan cheese and Hungry Planet Italian Sausage crumble.
LaRosa’s research chef, Connie Banning (pictured below with Mark LaRosa, LaRosa’s chief culinary officer), headed up the ingredient search for LaRosa’s plant-based menu offerings. “We added plant-based toppings to our menu because more and more of our guests asked for them, especially over the last couple of years,” Banning explains. “Those folks are choosing to make meat alternatives a bigger part of their diet. Plant-based options also help us satisfy the families that we serve, because there are selections that make everyone happy.”
Hungry Planet was co-founded by siblings Jody Boyman, a former wildlife photographer, and her brother, Todd Boyman. The duo tapped certified master chef Ron DeSantis to develop and create the recipes for their range of plant-based products. In addition to constantly recipe testing for new Hungry Planet products, DeSantis actively works with chefs and restaurateurs around the country to create delicious plant-based menu options at acclaimed restaurants around the country, from the celebrity hot spot Craig’s in West Hollywood, California, to the Indian fast-casual brand Curry Up Now.
Jody points to the importance of pizzerias adding plant-based protein options, citing stats that one in four diners is actively seeking to reduce consumption of conventional meats. “We’ve all experienced the ‘veto vote,’” she says. “If a restaurant isn’t serving what everyone is craving, the party is going to dine elsewhere. Topping choice is the key component for all pizza operations, and those that have diversified their offerings to include plant-based meat and cheese options make room for everyone at the table.”
For LaRosa’s, the decision to work with Hungry Planet was made after careful consideration. “We literally searched for years for a plant-based Italian sausage alternative that most closely mimicked the visual, flavor and texture of our traditional Italian sausage, and Hungry Planet’s soy-based Italian sausage was the best that we found,” Banning says. “And when we tested it with our guests, they agreed—they just loved it.
“The flavor is the best that we tasted, the texture is clean and has a great visual on top of a pizza, and the crumbles are easy for our pizza makers to use,” Banning continues. “Plus, Hungry Planet was exceptionally open to collaborating with us to make their plant-based Italian sausage work in our kitchens. They were quick to respond with recipe sample updates. They have all the attributes I’d expect from a larger, longer-established food company.”
Hungry Planet, meanwhile, was thrilled to partner with a brand like LaRosa’s, which has already perfected its recipes and knows exactly what its customers want. “We’ve crafted a plant-based meat that’s a 1:1 swap for conventional meats, so it’s a seamless swap for their chefs to prepare their fan-favorite recipes with Hungry Planet plant-based meats,” Todd notes. “Just like conventional Italian sausage, our plant-based Italian sausage works with any of the pizza toppings that customers love. At LaRosa’s, key options diners can enjoy include on-trend stuffed ravioli, calzones, subs, stromboli, lasagna, and Bolognese and traditional meat sauce applications.”
On the health front, Hungry Planet Italian Sausage Crumble gives LaRosa’s another point of differentiation: The sausage substitute has 90 calories (compared to the 170 calories found in 2 ounces of the leading brand of conventional Italian sausage), plus 2g more protein, and just 210mg sodium (compared to 450mg). “We’re also proud to be packed with fiber and have just 2g of fat, compared to 13g of fat,” Jody adds. “As a seamless swap for conventional meats, our plant-based meats require the same prep and storage, so there’s no learning curve, and nobody even tastes the difference!”
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