If you’re like most people, you’re too busy eating pizza to stop and consider the logistics of how it arrived on your kitchen counter. Ponder it long enough, though, and you may find it curious that pies usually come in square or other boxes that are a geometric departure from the round crust. So why don’t pizzas arrive in round cardboard boxes?
It’s mostly because the pizza industry doesn’t really care to disrupt the cardboard industry. Cardboard boxes are usually manufactured with edges (i.e. square or rectangular) because they can be made in one piece as well as neatly stacked.
The advantage of making a round pizza box would mainly be aesthetic. It’s not going to save space over an edged box. In the case of frozen pizzas, stacking pies vertically runs the risk of them rolling out of place. It’s just bad pizza management.
Of course, there are exceptions. Many pizzerias offer sheet or Sicilian-style pizzas, which are served in a rectangular shape and better conform to a rectangular box. And some chains have toyed with the conventional pizza box shape. Domino’s has a six-sided design with tapered front edges intended to reduce the cardboard used and limit the company’s carbon footprint. (It also reportedly keeps the pizza from sliding around.)
Pizza wasn’t always relegated to square cardboard. In the 1800s, street sellers carried pies in stufas, or portable metal containers that kept them warm. When pizza started rising in popularity in postwar America, pizzerias used a single piece of cardboard as support and then slipped the pie into a paper bag. Eventually, corrugated cardboard struck a fine balance between retaining heat without trapping too much moisture. (Those insulated delivery sleeves help, too.)
Will we ever see a radical rethink of the pizza box? Some people have tried. In 2010, Apple filed for a patent for a round pizza container with holes so moisture can escape. It’s used in the company’s food courts. Another company, World Centric, designed a compostable round box in 2018 that can be used to reheat pizza. A similar product was test-marketed by Pizza Hut in 2019. All of the designs boasted of keeping pizzas warmer and crispier for longer, but none have become ubiquitous.
For the most part, you’re still likely to encounter square boxes. Pizza is, after all, about finding comfort in the familiar.