High quality standard ranges of chilled pasta and sauces, often driven by promotional activity, are making essential innovation in the premium end of the market a tough proposition

The chilled pasta and pasta sauces sector is in need of some branded innovation, according to the leading brand supplier New Covent Garden Food Company.
As the UK’s fastest-growing fresh sauce brand, showing 180% year-on-year growth [IRI 52 w/e September 3, 2005], New Covent Garden Food Company has set its sights on rejuvenating the fresh sauce market, which remains dominated by own label.
Nigel Parrot, marketing director, points to “a vicious circle that must be broken to halt the trend of flat volume and declining value sales”.
Brands are reticent to enter the fresh category because of the dominance of own label and retailers’ increasing reliance on price promotions.
For many ambient companies, fresh pasta and sauces are simply not relevant to the brand proposition, while some UK-based manufacturers believe the fresh pasta category in particular requires an Italian heritage to guarantee success.
Retailers have worked hard this year to improve their own label chilled pasta and sauces ranges, according to Greencore Chilled Sauces and Soups. It cites activity by Sainsbury, Asda and Somerfield.
However, the company says that while retailers have evolved their standard own label chilled sauces, this has had a negative impact on premium. “Due to the high quality of standard ranges, the premium sub-sector has declined,” says Gail Halkon, marketing manager.
The company is confident the chilled market will flourish in the future, and says that penetration is around 20%, less than a third of that achieved by ambient sauces at 68.5%. But it says the same consumers buy both ambient and chilled sauces depending on the day and their mood, and expects trial
of products to grow.
Parrot also says fresh and ambient pasta and sauces occupy very different roles in people’s lives, with fresh typically eaten as a special meal.
He believes that the success of chilled pasta sauce is directly related to events in chilled pasta. “The value of chilled sauces is declining; retailers are dropping the price of their own label products in fresh pasta and sauces resulting in a need for cheaper ingredients.”
While fresh filled pasta continues to show the strongest growth in the category, up 8% in value to £87m [TNS 52 w/e September 11, 2005], there is nevertheless now an over-reliance on promotions rather than innovation.
Retailers are advised to heed warnings from the 7% value decline in the fresh cut pasta, as consumers are lured to the ambient aisles by increased merchandising and new product development.
Own label and branded manufacturer, Pasta Reale, however, believes there is mileage in the category and is stepping up its new product development in an attempt to boost brand presence with a range of fresh, filled pasta products.
“We are confident that these exciting and different flavour combinations will fuel growth in the fresh filled pasta market,” says Chris Redman, sales and marketing director.
Despite the declines in fresh cut pasta and fresh sauces over the past year, it is not all doom and gloom for the chilled sector. Seasonal variations heighten interest and are attracting new consumers to the fixture, says Parrot.
New Covent Garden Food Company’s butternut squash with nutmeg line, for example, is specifically positioned as a chilled sauce that should accompany fresh filled pasta.
Parrot says: “There are no thinner sauces suitable for filled pasta and once this is identified as an issue by the industry, there will be greater opportunities for growth across both the chilled pasta and pasta sauces categories.”