PORTLAND, OREGON, U.S. — Domino’s and Ardent Mills have been working together for several years to deliver pizza that not only meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s requirements for whole grains, but, just as importantly, satisfies the taste buds of school children.

In a tag team presentation at the Whole Grains Summit 2015 on June 24 in Portland, Jimmy Simonte, brand manager for Domino’s Smart Slice, and Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills, discussed how a collaborative approach helped the companies develop a winning pizza recipe for school food service.

When first deciding how to approach the school food service sector, Simonte said Domino’s had to address three pillars: sales and marketing; operations support; and new products. In terms of sales and marketing and operations, Domino’s had to address the fact that dealing with the school channel is different from selling pizzas in a store.

“With the school channel, that is a business-to-business transaction where one customer could actually be 200 deliverable locations going to large school districts,” Simonte said. “The implications of not only selling and marketing to that category, but now the execution and operations to deliver, are a tremendously challenging thing. If I’m late coming to your house on Friday night, that’s a bummer. If I’m late coming to 15 schools, the kids don’t get to eat.”

Domino’s has an internal acronym it calls SWAT, which stands for Suppliers Working Actively Together. It enlisted its SWAT philosophy in the development of its Smart Slice pizza.

“I know a lot about pizza, and know even more about delivering pizza, but I am not, and will never become, a food scientist,” Simonte said. “I will never be the expert in grains and dough technology, and gluten structures. So we’ve always worked to leverage our relationships that we have with our supplier partners.”

In 2009, that meant gathering those suppliers together. Domino’s challenged its suppliers to create a product that had to meet two requirements: it had to bake in Domino’s stores and it had to meet the anticipated USDA guidelines.

For Trouba and Ardent, Domino’s request “challenged us to flex new muscles” when it came to new product development. Ardent knew it had the ingredient with its Ultragrain Whole Wheat Flour, but the company learned it took several other ingredients, none of which Ardent was very familiar with.

“As we got into it, we really had to take on the mindset of Domino’s,” Trouba said. “After creating the formulas, we started going out to the restaurants and working with the franchisees who would ultimately be executing this. How did the ovens work? What do we need to adjust to get the pizzas to turn out? That can be a big thing for an operator.”

Simonte and Trouba agreed that the partnership has worked out.

Today, Domino’s sells Domino’s Smart Slice pizzas in more than 4,000 schools across the United States. The pizza is available in many varieties, from cheese, pepperoni and sausage to such varieties as Kickin’ Chicken and Hawaiian Hot Lava.

“The pizza can be indulgent or as healthy as you want it,” Simonte said.