After many years of seeing cheap pizza ovens flood the market, as me-too wood-fired ovens apeing Valoriani garden ovens and seeking to capitalise on the headway we had made in the UK since first introducing our range back in the early Noughties, it came as no surprise to see the trend taken to the extreme this summer, with the emergence of the £99 pizza oven.
Rather than being alarmed and disconcerted by this pricing strategy, however, we breathed a sigh of relief, as we recognised that sometimes consumers have to hit rock bottom with their purchases, to understand the full meaning of ‘you get what you pay for.’
Naturally, as anyone with a modicum of common sense will know, such pizza ovens will not last very long at all. Many have probably already contributed to the landfill mountains we are all supposed to be striving to reduce as the UK strives to meet waste reduction targets. They have taken their place alongside throwaway fast fashion, finding an early grave. The irony is that, alongside them, if you dug deep, you would find ovens that actually cost £600-£900 or and which were little better than their very cheap supermarket counterparts.
It can sometimes be a relief that these ovens reach end-of-life so quickly. Many are simply not insulated properly and are hazardous to operate, always presenting the possibility of severe burns from external domes or roofs that can reach temperatures of 400°C.
Many pizza oven importers and manufacturers here in the UK have been getting away with what we can only call ‘hoodwinking’ for far too long. Style over substance has been the design philosophy, with attractive facades disguising a multitude of sins when it comes to pizza oven materials, construction values and functionality. Ovens have been built to last little more than two summers at most. We continually supply high-quality wood-fired ovens to homeowners who had to throw their cheap imitation oven away far sooner than even that. Simple scientific principles of contraction and expansion during the firing process have just not been grasped by the creators of such pizza ovens and the consequence has been crumbling domes, cracked oven floors and a failure to retain heat after just a few uses.
People may look at our wood fired oven price tags and wonder why our wood ovens are more expensive than others that seemingly look similar and do the same job. The reason is that Valoriani garden and indoor wood ovens – even the domestic baby pizza oven (the now iconic Fornino 60), are built to last. They are made to be part of the family for 10 years or more, to watch your kids grow up, to play their part in family dramas, to become the hub of the neighbourhood social circle, to be there, performing time after time, whenever you want to fire them up. They are not built for the indignity of being dumped into a skip just a year or 18 months after purchase.
The trouble with the Internet is that you cannot do that time-honoured thing of assessing the quality of what you are buying, feeling the product, comparing and contrasting workmanship, materials, levels of insulation, finish and all the little details that turn a banger into a marque of quality. For too long, the me-too pizza oven makers have been getting away with the mentality of ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’, vindicating the throwaway culture and somehow intimating that it is OK. Homeowners who value their hard-earned cash feel differently. Those with concerns about the environment should also baulk at this attitude. It’s time to value quality, longevity, one journey from manufacturer to garden and not multiple carbon-generating journeys as one oven is replaced by another and another and another. At a time when coronavirus is straining supply and distribution systems, we should all be thinking about purchases made to last, which won’t leave us with issues when trying to call out maintenance people (although find any warranty on even a £1000 oven and you will be doing well) and which won’t get us into trouble with virus regulations.
And on the note of regulations, let’s not forget clean-air compliance. Unless an oven has DEFRA certification, it may not be legal to operate it in a Smoke Control Area, of which there are many. Many of the ovens available on the market have no such certification and have not been tested and approved for their emissions. Oven confiscation and shutdown are very real possibilities, as are fines. And, even if you don’t live in a Smoke Control Area right now, with the way in which clean air legislation is going, is it really too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that we will see such areas becoming the norm very soon, or have one blanket clean air policy right across the UK?
Food safety is another big issue. Valoriani believes it is the only oven manufacturer to have assessed this important facet of cooking with a pizza oven. The question has to be asked, why have others not bothered?
So, the £99.99 oven has done us a huge favour this year. Consumers are finally becoming the discerning purchasers of wood fired ovens that the environment requires. Valoriani’s stock as a pizza oven manufacturer with an unswerving commitment to quality and the family values and pride in production that underpin it, is riding high. The more that tales of oven failures, disappointments and money down the drain spread, the more it will soar still further.
To make this point clear, we have put together this little bit of food for thought:
Oven cost: £99
Life expectancy; one year.
Cost of ownership £100 a year.
Drawbacks: dangerous (no insulation); few or no refractory materials in construction; no proper testing or certification to support performance or legality; poor food quality.
Oven cost £750-£1000
Life expectancy: 1-3 years
Cost of ownership: £330-£1000 per year.
Drawbacks: poorly insulated oven made with few or no refractory materials; second-rate cooking performance and little cooking flexibility or economy.
Fornino 60: £1495
Life expectancy: minimum 10 years
Cost of ownership: £150 a year
Advantages: highest quality; made the artisan way, by a family with 130 years’ experience, proper and safe insulation; class-leading performance and economy; producing high-quality food, with lots of culinary flexibility, including cooking with residual heat.