A number of pastizzara have debunked the accusation that they acted as a cartel over the recent price rise of Malta’s favourite snack.

“This is a tough business,” says Christopher Bonnici, operations manager at Jeff’s Pastizzeria. “Our profit margins are very marginal.”

“There has not been an increase since 2008,” says Albert Muscat, founder of Sphinx Pastizzeria. “When we adopted the euro, pastizzi were sold for 25c each and a few months later they rose to 30c”, and the price didn’t change until this summer.

Raw material costs have gone up – flour, ricotta and eggs – as have wages – and an increase in pastizzi prices was inevitable, but there was no collusion among vendors, they all say.

The story goes that a Żejtun-based pastizzeria increased its prices at the end of 2017 and during subsequent months others followed suit. “It would be stupid if our competitors raised their prices and we didn’t; if I can increase my profits, why not,” questions one pastizzar.

Meantime, it’s business as usual at Malta’s major pastizzi factories, and factories is what they are.

At Sphinx’s Qormi factory 30 employees produce some 7,000 pastizzi a day, plus the other staples normally available at our local pastizzerias – qassatat, pizzas, timpana, meat pies and sausage rolls.

But these are no longer enough; to maintain their competitive edge companies need to diversify and develop new speciality items, such as the deliciously sounding mango rib pie from Sphinx.

An estimated 7.3 million pastizzi are produced and consumed a year, which is a good indicator of their popularity

“We were also the first to introduce chicken pastizzi and Wudy rolls,” claims Sphinx joint managing director Elvin Muscat.

Over at Tal-Ħandaq, home of Jeff’s Pastizzeria, “we are taking pastizzi a step further,” says Mr Bonnici. The company plans to launch a slew of new products next year with “fillings of fish, lamb and a breakfast pastizz”. The latter will include a Maltese sausage meat mix, eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms.

With some 150 shops dotted around the islands, diversification is the name of the game to survive – for both the factories and retailers.

Elvin Muscat: Diversification is key to maintain a competitive edge.Elvin Muscat: Diversification is key to maintain a competitive edge.

The factories’ daily output is sold to franchisees; Sphinx has 38 in Malta and two in Gozo, and two years ago it bought the Champs chain; Jeff’s owns four shops and supplies another 33 franchisees in Malta. Smaller outfits cater to independents, and, of course, some retailers manufacture on site, such as Mosta’s Premier Pastizzeria.

The Maxims spectrum of outlets – Mr Maxims, Maxims and Mr Maxims Junior – all belong to various branches of the Caruana family, (McSims and MacSean do not).

The business model, meanwhile, is pretty basic; in most cases it’s a 70:30 or 60:40 split, with the smaller cut going to the franchiser – which explains why selling only pastizzi is no longer economically viable.

For traditionalists such as Giovanni Caruana – doyen of the islands’ pastizzi industry – “cheesecake shops are like supermarkets now”.

When the Caruanas opened the first Maxims, named after the famous Parisian restaurant, in 1958 in Qormi, the shop sold only pastizzi. “There were no displays, pastizzis were sold straight from the oven… Habits were different then,” explains Mr Caruana. “People bought them by the dozen and had them for breakfast or as a snack during the day. Today, people have become more health conscious and buy pastizzi occasionally.”

To drive the message home, from June 1, 2019, the sale of pastizzi will be banned at Mater Dei, as part of the hospital’s campaign towards a “healthier food environment”.

“Pastizzi consumption drops in summer,” explains Aaron Muscat, joint managing director at Sphinx. “The peak is from mid-October… places that sell well in summer are by the sea, such as Birżebbuġa and Qawra.”

But these little puff pastry gems that weigh around 100 grams each are so deeply ingrained in the Maltese culinary psyche, they will no doubt continue to be in great demand – an estimated 7.3 million pastizzi are produced and consumed a year, which is a good indicator of their popularity.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us