Tired of having too many soggy pizzas delivered to him, Vinay Mehta decided to do something about it. In 2006, with a pen knife, some cardboard and a long drive between Mumbai and Pune, he designed VENTiT, which has been judged as the world's best pizza box.
Mehta's container was accorded this honour recently by Scott Wiener, the New York-based pizza aficionado and author of a book called ‘Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box’.
Wiener should know. He has collected approximately 650 boxes from around the world since 2009 and is the Guinness World Record holder in this category. He said that of all the boxes he has seen, Mehta’s design is best suited to delivering steaming pizzas. “It's smart because it doesn't add any hardware, just rethinks the common construction of a box and rearranges it,” Wiener wrote to Scroll.
The biggest challenge faced by take-out restaurants, experts say, is the poor ventilation of the packaging. Trapped steam condenses on the food, making it unappealing and dampening its aroma.
Mehta was well placed to solve this problem. He has been dealing with corrugated cardboard boxes for 35 years. He owns a firm called Reproscan, which offers printing services to packaging firms, as also the advertising and publishing sector.
He realised that most pizza boxes are ineffective because they have holes on the side to release steam -- but the heat is actually released from the top and bottom of the pies. Mehta’s solution is simple.
Cardboard, he explained consists of three layers: two flat surfaces and one ridged corrugated sheet in between. VENTiT boxes have holes in the two flat surfaces, but not in the middle layer. This permits steam to travel through the grooves in the middle corrugated layer, without getting trapped inside the box. More importantly, no additional material is required to manufacture the box.
“It's the biggest challenge of pizza box designers to create something that retains heat without trapping steam while still staying inexpensive and I think this box has achieved just that!” said Wiener.
Here's what the box promises to do.
Mehta is planning to tie up with international partners to produce and distribute VENTiT boxes all over the world. It took him five years to obtain an initial patent and he started selling the box only in 2011. He now has patents in over 100 countries.
He already manufactures about 100,000 boxes a month for clients in south Mumbai. Smokin’ Joe’s, a 21-year-old pizza outlet was his first customer, but he has added several other pizza makers to his list, including Francesco’s Pizzeria and Pizza Metro Pizza.
He also supplies boxes to purveyors of other cuisines, from fruit to south Indian delicacies. “Have you ever ordered a dosa?” he asked. “It’s too rubbery. But with my box, it is delivered crisp.”
According to Mehta, the cardboard industry has remained static for over a century. “It has always been about two things: compression and cushioning. With my box, I’ve added a third element to this. That is ventilation.”