Dion’s, Innovation Academy team up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Many out-of-state Dion’s lovers crave the pizza chain’s popular salad dressings, but the company needs a safe, affordable, refrigerated-shipping method to send it.

To find one, Dion’s is partnering with the University of New Mexico’s Innovation Academy to recruit UNM students in a three-week competition to keep Dion’s dressings cool. The winning team, or individual, will earn $1,000 in cash, plus $50-per-month Dion’s gift cards for a year.

Competition organizers are betting on the creativity of pizza-loving students, said Academy Director Rob DelCampo.

“Dion’s hired engineers and went to conferences on food shipping and nothing works for their particular product,” DelCampo said. “So let’s get people who enjoy their product most, a bunch of college kids, with no limits on how many can participate. They just show up at the kickoff on Sept. 20, Dion’s will hand out competition kits for participants and bring a bunch of pizza and let everyone go crazy.”

For Dion’s, the technical challenge is keeping its dressings at a cool 33 to 41 degrees at all times during shipping to stay fresh, but without ever allowing it to freeze, said Dion’s Marketing Director Deena Crawley. The company has done a lot of its own testing but hasn’t found a workable solution.

“We’re expert pizza makers, but not shippers, so we’re opening it up to people who might have some expertise,” Crawley said. “We know there’s some really smart students out there.”

The solution needs to be inexpensive to keep shipping costs down, Crawley added.

“We get requests for our ranch and other dressings all over the U.S. from Georgia to California and we have to ship through a third party like USPS,” Crawley said. “People request just a couple of bottles at a time and they’re on the other side of the country, so it’s cost prohibitive.”

The pizza chain makes its own dressings at a production facility in Albuquerque, including ranch, green chile ranch, Greek, Thousand Island and more. The company employs about 1,500 people at 23 stores in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.

All challenge participants will receive competition kits with a thermometer, a shipping box and a gift card for two bottles of ranch.

“They have to figure out how to keep the salad dressing below 41 degrees without it freezing for 48 hours,” DelCampo said. “That’s about the shipping time it would take to get pretty much anywhere in the U.S.”

The challenge will culminate in a science fair-like event on Oct. 20 at the Lobo Rainforest Building at Innovate ABA Downtown.

“It’s all about innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship,” DelCampo said. “We’re getting kids to think about creative solutions for problems.”