Ali Khan Lalani, founder and CEO of General Assembly Pizza, made his first frozen pizza in April of 2020.
Less than a year later, Lalani’s frozen pizza operation has wrapped a $13-million Series A funding round — almost $10-million over their initial goal. The company is in the midst of expanding distribution, opening a satellite restaurant, and rolling out a major partnership with Impossible Foods. Last month, Lalani led the company public, listing on the TSXV as the first frozen pizza to go public in Canada.
“We have now sold over a quarter of a million frozen pizzas.”
When the world shut down last March. Lalani was forced to lay off 90% of his staff. To drum up revenue, the team came up with the idea of a pizza kit—doughs, sauces, toppings, boxed, and ready to delivery to a city suddenly confined to a home.
But Lalani, a sommelier and pizzaiolo, noticed that grocery stores were limiting purchases on just two items: toilet paper and frozen pizzas. There was a captive audience of consumers at home, and it’s clear they wanted pizza.
He quickly maneuvered to position GA as a direct-to-consumer, home-meal solution, offering quick-heating, naturally-leavened frozen pizzas delivered right to your door.
A year later, General Assembly pizzas are found in the freezer aisle of 65-plus larger grocery stores and independent retailers. Or, have the pies delivered to your doorstep, via GA’s branded subscription service. Once a month, a selection of 4, 6, or 8 pizzas will show up at your door, ready to eat in just seven minutes. Customers can choose their preferred flavors and toppings — a selection of 9 classics are always offered, padded out with members-only flavors of the month. Looking for a unique gifting option? General Assembly does that too, offering customized gift boxes for pizza-enamored pals.
“We finished Q1 having sold 25,000 subscription boxes,” says Lalani.
Since launching late last year, the service has raked in tens of thousands of subscribers and seen a 285% increase in subscriptions quarter-over-quarter. There are 5,000 active subscribers today.
Placement in national chains is on the horizon, but General Assembly’s issue isn’t demand — it’s keeping up with it. Right now, they’re turning thousands of pizzas a day out of a former restaurant space, rejigged to handle the ever-growing frozen pizza operation.
“In February, we noticed the demand for our business was high — especially considering it had been a few short months since we started,” describes Lalani. “We thought to ourselves, we’re going to need more capital.”
General Assembly closed a $13-million Series A funding round in February, 2021. Gravitas Securities Inc. led the financing.
In June, GA commenced trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. “We want to grow the company from Ontario and beyond, and show that we are good stewards of capital and can drive performance, growth, scale, and acquisition. We think we can build trust with the public market.”
The new funding will fuel the opening of a large production facility west of Toronto, allowing them to increase production to 5,000 units per day by the second quarter of 2021, and 10,000 units per day by the third quarter of 2021; with eventual plans to reach 20,000 units produced daily.
“We’ll be able to grow GA to scale,” describes Lalani. “We expect to produce 500% of our current capacity by the end of the year.” This growth will land them in national grocery chains across the country, and “push our direct-to-consumer business forward and allow us to open new territories.”
With expanded end-to-end production capabilities, Lalani is eying the US market.
“The North American frozen pizza market is valued at roughly a billion dollars. The global market is $25 billion. The United States is the largest growth market on earth and you better believe we’re going down there.”
The American Frozen Food Institute and FMI—the Food Industry Association found that frozen food was the fastest-growing category in grocery stores during the pandemic period, noting that growth will continue after restrictions lift. The industry as a whole is valued at $51.1 billion, up 21% since 2019.
What separates General Assembly from your standard freezer fare?
Carbon-neutral delivery methods are in the works, and the company is the process of swapping to NKA Bio-Films: plastic-esque material made with renewable resources, namely birch wood pulp and compostable polyethylene.
Lalani and team have devised their perfect freezer pizza, par-baked and topped with ingredients devised to shine in a home-oven environment.
“Pepperoni has to go on last so your oven chars that pepperoni,” says Lalani. “You have to cut the vegetables thinner — at home you’re not working with the high heat of a 900-degree oven. We have to engineer it to be foolproof.” If a customer does encounter difficulties, General Assembly has support lines staffed to field all their burning pizza questions.
“And folks at home tend to like more cheese than they do at restaurants. Don’t forget the cheese.”