To prosper within the foodservice industry, pasta will need to address the growing consumer desire for quality, health and speed of delivery, reports Jonathan Thomas.
Sales of pasta via the retail and foodservice sectors have now started to recover, as manufacturers develop products which cater towards healthy and/or gluten-free lifestyles. Pasta suppliers are also tapping in to the growing desire for products possessing a more artisanal appearance, which gives the impression of quality. Another challenge within the sector is the need to address greater demand for foods which can be eaten conveniently on the go, which has led pasta manufacturers to experiment with more portable offerings.
Consumption & Trends
The global pasta market continues to grow, despite have come under pressure from health concerns and the rising popularity of gluten-free diets. Across much of the world, pasta is still viewed as a convenient meal center, suitable for the preparation of popular and authentic Italian dishes such as spaghetti bolognese and lasagna. Although estimates vary, global sales are valued at between USD10bn and USD15bn, with dried pasta accounting for the bulk of sales. The remainder of the market is made up of fresh and chilled pasta, which has made inroads into meal occasions such as snacking and lunchtimes, as well as frozen pasta. If sales of pasta-based ready meals are excluded, the frozen pasta category remains relatively small across much of the world.
In regional terms, Europe has the world’s largest pasta market, as might be expected given its association with Italy. According to data from the International Pasta Organization, Italy is the world’s leading pasta producer, with annual output worth around 3.2 million tons, or more than 20% of global production. It is also the world’s leading consumer by some distance – the average Italian is believed to eat around 23 kg of pasta per year. Research carried out into Italian eating habits in 2017 by Ipsos found that over 70% of consumers favored lighter meals, with 58% agreeing that tradition should represent a major influencer as far as NPD is concerned. The same study found that 39% of Italian consumers liked fish-based pasta dishes as a first course, with 17% choosing meat-based pasta dishes.
Per capita consumption of pasta is also reasonably high elsewhere in Western Europe, ranging from around 11 kg for Greeks and just over 9 kg in Switzerland. In the larger Western European countries, per capita consumption of pasta falls to around 8 kg in both France and Germany and drops to under 4 kg in the UK. In many of these markets, manufacturers have been experimenting with flavored varieties to maintain consumer interest, examples of which have included wild mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Another widespread form of innovation has been the development of unusually-shaped pasta, which can enhance its artisanal appearance.
Other sizeable markets for pasta exist in parts of the world such as North and Latin America, the Middle East. Africa and parts of Asia. The US has the world’s largest single pasta market, with annual consumption amounting to 2.7 million tons, or around 9 kg per capita. Other leading global consumers in per capita terms include Tunisia (17 kg) and Venezuela (12 kg). In recent years, much of the fastest growth within the global market has come from Asia, where volume sales continue to increase by more than 8% per annum.
As has been alluded to previously, pasta sales in many of the more developed western have struggled in recent years, due to consumer concerns over intake of carbohydrates and more people adopting gluten-free diets. In response, some manufacturers have been developing pasta products catering towards these requirements. In September 2018, for example, market leader Barilla launched a new range of pastas made from legumes such as chickpeas and lentils. Varieties in the new range included Red Lentil Rotini, Red Lentil Penne, Chickpea Rotini and Chickpea Casarecce, all of which were certified as gluten-free. Other examples from the UK market include a Green Pea Fusilli from Napolina (which is made from green pea flour, organic and marketed as a good source of fiber) and Seggiano Rice & Quinoa Tagliatelle.
Many of the aforementioned pasta products are also suitable for vegans, which addresses another healthy eating trend currently in vogue. Another health claim which appears to be impacting upon the market is organic, with Barilla having extended its pasta range with an organic variety in 2016. Other health-oriented trends which can be expected to appear over the coming years include the emergence of more pastas fortified with additional nutrients and ingredients, such as fiber. Research indicates that consumers in markets such as Western Europe and the US are willing to pay a premium for pasta which addresses health and wellness considerations, a factor likely to keep future growth levels high.
You can read the entire article in the Jan-Feb print issue of Frozen Food Europe magazine.