This outstanding performance has been bolstered by the huge amount of development that has taken place in the market. The multiples have led the way, with Waitrose and Safeway creating fresh pasta bars, and Tesco, Safeway and Sainsbury extending their premium own label ranges with the introduction of superior quality fresh and dry pasta. Brands have stepped up their activities too, with Italian giant Barilla starting a major campaign to topple Buitoni from its number one slot in dry pasta, Unilever Bestfoods putting a massive spend behind its newly launched Bertolli brand, and Cirio undertaking a big push into the multiples. Underlying these developments is the fact that consumers have become more knowledgeable about the different types of pasta and sauces, and more adventurous about Italian food in general. This has been fuelled by the plethora of recipe ideas in cookery programmes, recipe cards, food magazines and consumer information. The greatest changes in the market at the moment are in dry pasta, the largest sector with 88% volume share. Its significant 7% value growth over a 5.3% volume increase indicates that, at long last, it is beginning to shake off its commodity driven status. Own label value lines still abound ­ some as low as 12p for spaghetti and 21p for shapes ­ but with the consumer demand for higher quality, the clear trend is towards higher value premium products. The demand for higher quality is causing a shift towards authentic Italian brands. Sales of Buitoni, still the number one dry brand, are up 11% y-o-y, according to Nestlé which anticipates strong value and volume growth next year. Its confidence stems from research showing Buitoni enjoys the highest brand-prompted awareness of all pasta. This gives the brand a key advantage in revitalising consumer interest in the category, says Nestlé. However, the big promotional push the sector needs is coming from Barilla which has invested substantially in advertising and marketing ever since it launched its premium pasta and sauce ranges last year. Marketing director Kirsty Le Doare says the last year has been excellent, with Barilla increasing its share from 1% to more than 3% of the total dry pasta market, elevating it to the number two brand position. It also has 5% of Tesco's dry pasta market following the success of its Barilla zone' featuring pasta and sauces. Says Le Doare:"We're the only major pasta brand to have advertised in 10 years, so our investment has been very important in helping to educate consumers. "We plan to continue, doubling our above-the-line spend next year." This summer Barilla ran a massive sampling campaign in store car parks to promote the quality of its pasta and build brand awareness, culminating in July at the Safeway sponsored Pavarotti Picnic in London's Hyde Park where more than 6,000 people sampled penne with olive sauce and spaghetti with pesto. "The campaign produced a fantastic response, with some stores running out of Barilla products within two hours," says Le Doare. Another factor in Barilla's success, she believes, is that it is the only Italian brand to provide a complete gastronomic solution by offering both pasta and pasta sauce. "It provides a unique opportunity for link promotions. A gondola end link promotion in Tesco achieved 11 times normal sales volume," says Le Doare. Barilla regards innovation as crucial to market development and consequently extended its range this year with dried egg tortellini and tortelloni made with a drying technique that leaves the filling more porous so it remains moist but firm when cooked. "The textures of the pasta and of the filling taste like a fresh product," adds Le Doare. The increasing demand for better quality products has led to a flood of authentic Italian brands entering the market, according to Trustin Unimerchants, which has distributed the Italian Montegrappa range for eight years and also supplies own label with Italian-made ranges. Commercial director Jim Conlin says: "Standard pasta is exhausted now. All the interesting shapes have been done. Consumers start at the standard end, but are now graduating to premium because they're becoming more knowledgeable about the different qualities, although a great deal of education still needs to be done. We see packaging playing an important part in doing this." Montegrappa's range is mostly egg based, its speciality being flat products. Conlin says the company has a large npd department which is focusing on premium developments for the UK. Its latest is a new organic range made with top quality durum wheat and fresh free range eggs. The leader in organic pasta is Pedigree Masterfoods' Seeds of Change. The company says penetration is growing, with penne pasta being the best selling line. Sicilian pasta manufacturer Puglisi Pasta, which has been in the UK for 16 years supplying independents, cash & carries and now Safeway, is finding demand increasing for its premium ranges. Safeway has recently taken five new shapes which the manufacturer's UK md Alessio Puglisi says are "very traditional and regional, produced at medium temperature using a bronze dye to enhance the flavour and allow the sauce to mix better with the pasta". The bronze dye process is widely regarded as producing the best pasta and the number of ranges is increasing, among them Sainsbury's Taste the Difference and the Loyd Grossman Dry Pasta range. In contrast to pasta, the sauce sector is far more highly developed because there are more brands, and consequently greater brand support that's helped to grow the market. The last year has seen an influx of new products, making the £228.6m sector far more competitive, with 11% value growth. However, the top seller remains Dolmio Bolognese which now has 20% of the entire market [Information Resources], with its Stir Ins and microwaveable Just Heat & Serve showing impressive growth. Faced with stiffer competition, Pedigree Masterfoods has revitalised the Bolognese range, introducing the Best Ever recipe in a new jar design in August, plus Dolmio Finest Selection in three flavours to target premium users. Authenticity, coupled with convenience, lies behind the 20% growth of the Loyd Grossman brand which Premier International group brand manager Stella Laughton says is now fourth in the pasta sauce market, and accounts for four of the top 10 best selling premium sauces. "The premium end is the main area of growth," she confirms. To refresh the range, four new varieties were recently introduced, along with a 660g jar of top performer tomato & basil. Laughton says the brand's strategy of creating a personal relationship with consumers through a web site, recipe information line and the annual Loyd Grossman roadshow has been fundamental to its growth. Sacla', which 10 years ago was the UK's first pesto brand, is witnessing 25% growth, according to joint UK md Clare Blampied. "Around 10% of the population are pesto loyalists and 15 million jars of Sacla' are consumed annually," says Blampied. Recently Sacla' broadened its range with two organic pestos which Blampied says have proved real winners, accounting for upwards of 10% of the company's sales, plus three new tomato based sauces for the family market. Among the new names in the sauce market is Cirio, Italy's leading tomato brand, which branched into sauces last year with a six strong range, plus a pesto. Head of marketing Helen Piper-King says real growth has started to come in the last few months, following the company's Del Monte acquisition in February which has given it access to the multiples through Del Monte's national sales team. "We've not started to support Cirio yet, but will do so next year," says Piper-King. Barilla, another newcomer which is rolling out its Italian made range, says it's had to develop 400g jars ­ twice the size required by the Italian market ­ because British consumers expect a lot of sauce and don't see pasta as a meal in its own right. The range includes classic tomato based sauces, plus pesto, with white sauces under development. Barilla's Le Doare says next year will be even better for the brand, when a big programme of product development, marketing and advertising will be unfurled. One of the biggest launches ­ or perhaps relaunches ­ is Unilever Bestfoods' Bertolli, the new brand name for its former Five Brothers range which made its debut this summer. The rebranding has entailed moving manufacture from America to Italy and rejigging the recipes to produce an authentic Italian made product. Category manager Mike Miller says Five Brothers met the requirement for quality "but consumers are looking for authenticity, which is why we've rebranded and moved production to Italy". Since launch, Bertolli has gained up to 75% distribution, with encouraging sales, says Miller. The entire brand, which includes olive oil, is being supported by an £8m advertising and promotions campaign running to December. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}