Eric Hill (left) and Paul Barber and a tray of Goodtime pies (Image: Tina Tiller)
Eric Hill (left) and Paul Barber and a tray of Goodtime pies (Image: Tina Tiller)

The BulletinNovember 18, 2020

Mince and cheese to pepper shroom: The evolution of the petrol station pie

Eric Hill (left) and Paul Barber and a tray of Goodtime pies (Image: Tina Tiller)
Eric Hill (left) and Paul Barber and a tray of Goodtime pies (Image: Tina Tiller)

In a time of changing tastes, diets, supply chains and ways of working, Goodtime Pies has had to constantly adapt. Alex Braae examines the evolution of the humble pie. 

The petrol station pie has always been a classic, but it has come a long way since being a lunch of last resort. Once a driver would have been lucky to avoid getting soggy pastry wrapped around some meat of untold origins. 

But consumers are much more discerning now, and these days the pie warmer is a thing of beauty. Every baker hoping to survive has had to make changes, coming up with innovative fillings and ensuring crispy pastry. That means quality control and attention to detail being baked in, and sometimes it may even mean ditching meat altogether. 

But it starts with the pastry. It’s where a pie gives its first impression. And as award-winning pie company Goodtime Pies discovered, the appearance of the pie – the golden crust of the pastry – is what draws customers to the glass of the cabinet. 

“The biggest thing for people is that they first buy with their eyes. They want to look at that whole cabinet and see a pie that looks really appealing to them. So we spent a lot of time on our pastry. We’re known in the industry for our unique type of soft and tender pastry,” said Goodtime managing director Eric Hill. 

He can’t go into what exactly Goodtime does to get the pastry like that – trade secrets and all. But Hill can say it took a lot of experimentation and development to get there, followed by getting the processes right to make it taste the same every time – if not look exactly the same. Hill said customer feedback suggests people don’t necessarily want total standardisation in the look of the pies. 

“It looks a bit wonky, and looks like it might have been made out the back or at your local bakery – we try to provide that more homemade look. Every pie looks a little bit different.”

That’s not necessarily an easy thing for a major baker to do, given they’ve also got some huge orders to fill regularly. Across bakeries in Napier and Christchurch, Goodtime has about 90 bakers, and just over 100 people in the company overall. 

And as Kiwi diets have evolved, Goodtime has had to change with them. One of the most striking trends in eating habits over recent years has been a gradual shift away from meat – people are either cutting down their intake, going vegetarian, or going full-on vegan. About 3% of the population is currently vegan, and 10% is vegetarian, according to figures given by Hill. That’s partly driven by environmental and animal welfare concerns around the impact of meat farming. 

Goodtime picked up on the trend and started producing vegan pies in 2017, a format Hill said has been enthusiastically embraced. “We were the first commercial pie maker, working alongside Z Energy, to launch a commercial vegan range of pies. So we had to pioneer the process, and pioneer the pastry.” 

Fancy AF. The award-winning pepper shroom pie (Photo: Supplied)

It proved to be extremely popular. “It was a little bit like the Lewis Road Creamery incident, in which we ran out of stock. Then we had to madly make some more. That really opened our eyes to how much of a shift there had been in consumers, and how much of a demand there was.” About 60,000 pies are made every day, about 5% of which are vegan, up from a base of zero four years ago. 

That demand doesn’t necessarily mean an explosion in the numbers of committed vegans – rather it’s a case of people being much more open to exploring vegan diets than before. “The majority of people purchasing these non-meat products are actually meat eaters, or flexitarians, that just want to eat less meat. They’re not necessarily wanting to eat no meat, but they do want to eat less,” said Hill. 

Next on the agenda is the development of a vegan sausage roll, using a pea protein base for the filling. That’s part of an emerging category of food known as “alternative meats” – effectively substitutes for meat that aim to replicate the taste and texture of animal flesh. But it’s very difficult to make a substitute taste as good as the real thing, so at present Goodtime’s vegan pie range is about bringing the best flavours out of vegetable recipes. 

One offering in their range is the pepper shroom flavour, which recently won the best commercial pie category in the Vegan Pie Awards. As a pie, it fills the gap between the vegan and meat-eater space, with the pepper and gravy combining for satisfyingly hearty undertones. Goodtime’s Korma Vegetable pie was the runner-up in that category. Both were created by qualified in-house chef Paul Barber. 

While 2020 has been a particularly challenging year for all businesses, for Goodtime their supply chain issues have been going on for much longer than Covid-19. The adaptability in their product range partly reflects a mindset of being able to meet difficulties with flexibility. 

It started last year, when a major drought in Australia impacted wheat supplies, driving up the price of flour. After that, African Swine fever decimated pig herds in China, which in turn led to price spikes for meat on the global market. “At one point, we were actually talking about whether we can get meat supply, not about how much the price was going to be,” said Hill. After getting through all of that, Covid-19 came along, though Goodtime was able to keep operating as an essential service. 

Sales crashed in the first week, with lockdown slashing demand. But from there, it has been a steady climb back up, with a few shortages in product along the way. “It was just about having to be on your game, being really agile on a daily basis, and adjusting accordingly,” said Hill.  

The biggest change of all for Goodtime has been a change in the image of how healthy pies really are. Hill cited a famous urban legend about each pie having “a golf ball worth of fat” – but it wasn’t true at the time, and certainly isn’t now. “The percentage of fat in pies has come down considerably over time, so the standard pies now have a heck of a lot less fat across all manufacturers.” 

As the awards show, Goodtime’s innovations were the right calls to keep up with consumer tastes, particularly moves towards more interest in vegan and health conscious diets. And as those trends accelerate, it leaves them well placed to get hungry drivers to continue to wrap their hands around their golden pastry. 

This content was created in paid partnership with Z Energy. Learn more about our partnerships here.

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