New shapes, flavours, fresh sauces and fillings are pulling new consumers into a sector that's growing at a rapid 16% P asta's unstoppable growth is most evident in the £113m fresh sector which has experienced a massive 16% sales rise in the past year, according to Pasta Reale and TNS. Yet this is still very much an emerging market ­ household penetration is still only 6%, but rising 5% in volume per usage occasion, leaving a huge opportunity for growth. Jane Rutherford, marketing manager of brand leader Pasta Reale, attributes growth largely to new users coming into the market, rather than increased frequency of purchase. "Fresh pasta and chilled sauces are doing so well because they offer consumers an easy meal solution with no compromise on health, taste or quality," she says. Another reason is the explosion in innovation over the last year, with new shapes, flavoured pastas and fillings in many combinations, from marbled cheese pasta to chocolate. "The vast majority of consumers buy fresh pasta and sauces on impulse, so innovation and range refreshment are essential to attract and maintain their interest ," says Rutherford. With this in mind, Pasta Reale revamped its flagship Duetto brand with new pack designs and the sector's first two colour/two flavour pasta varieties this spring. Its latest development is Pasta and Sauce for One, a pack of 300g of fresh pasta with 150g of sauce ­ a generous single serving ­ that can be cooked in six minutes. The two flavour varieties, at rsp £1.99, are targeted at single person households and solo meals, and span the traditional boundaries between fresh pasta and Italian ready meals. "They provide an even greater level of convenience, and solve the dilemma many consumers face of what sauce to serve with pasta. Because roughly a third of fresh pasta buyers don't buy sauces, while a similar number of sauce buyers don't purchase pasta, it also increases all- round usage," says Rutherford. A further development is a new range of roasted sundried tomatoes and peppers for adding to pasta, or as a pizza topping, which the company wants to see merchandised alongside chilled sauces. Filled pasta is the sector's top performer [up 19%, Pasta Reale] as it provides a sharp differentiation from dried that unfilled fresh pasta lacks. "Bestsellers are spinach & ricotta, ham & cheese and the cheeses, while tortellini is the most popular shape," adds Rutherford. The premium sector has seen a huge amount of development led by own label, with the debut of premium style parcels by Tesco's Finest, and Safeway's The Best. Own label supplier Geest foresees larger parcels playing an increasingly dominant role, particularly since they've led to innovation in fillings with the use of larger particulates. Another growing segment is healthy eating' ­ again, own label led by Tesco's Healthy Eating brand, Waitrose's Perfectly Balanced, plus similar developments by Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Somerfield. Organic has also emerged over the last year with a mixture of brands ­ Del Ugo and Terence Stamp ­ plus numerous own label introductions. With 18% growth, chilled sauces is another top performer. Hazlewood Foods says the classic Italian flavours ­ arrabbiata, Bolognese, Napoletana and carbonara ­ remain the bestsellers, while innovative flavours such as vodka & chilli have brought excitement and interest to the category. Tomato & mascarpone, first introduced by the company two years ago, has also become a bestseller and is now featured by most own label ranges. Chilled sauces marketing manager Gail Halkon believes the general trend is towards authenticity and restaurant quality. "Retailers are addressing this by going for regionality. We've recently turned Sainsbury's leek & gruyere into a more authentic product by switching to Fontal, an authentic regional Italian cheese," she says. Market growth has also been boosted by a significant increase in promotional activity, with link saves between pasta and sauces becoming a popular mechanic across the board. In own label, Geest has concentrated on increasing penetration. In conjunction with Tesco, it ran a mass sampling on the eve of the Great North Run, the world's largest marathon, in which more than 11,000 bowls of fresh pasta and sauce were served. Pasta Reale's focus, on the other hand, is on consumer education. "We put a lot of emphasis on this, with on- pack recipes, recipe books, on-pack promotions to create excitement, plus lots of activity in the women's press. "As a result, consumers are becoming more aware and better educated about fresh pasta usage, which is helping to drive growth," says Rutherford. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}