Consumers love Italian cuisine, so are suppliers delivering innovative, authentic products asks Helen Lewis

Our love affair with all things Italian, combined with a desire to increase value across pasta and pasta sauces, has encouraged companies to launch a variety of premium products over the past 12 months targeting foodies.
Taste, authenticity and provenance continue to be the keys to unlocking value growth as people sample authentic recipes on their Italian holidays.
Rob Sutton, director of sales and marketing at Sacla’, says: “People are seeking provenance of a brand. The Italian way of life provokes a positive, healthy and aspirational image. Consumers are keen to purchase authentic products.”
However, the lines are still blurred between products that consumers believe are made in Italy and those that actually are, according to Peter Parmigiani, founder and director of ambient sauce company Dress Italian. He says that while provenance is growing in importance, it is not yet a major issue across the entire category.
“Provenance, authenticity and expertise are determining factors when it comes to pesto sauces, while the opposite is true of tomato sauces; most are made in the UK or outside Italy,” he says. “This suggests that authenticity and expertise are not factors in their production and they are predominantly seen as a commodity, convenience item.”
Masterfoods’ Dolmio is made in Holland but remains the undisputed king of pasta sauce brands, followed by Knorr’s Ragú and Campbell’s Homepride [TNS]. Premier Foods’ Loyd Grossman range has leapfrogged Sacla’ to fourth place and New Covent Garden Food Company’s chilled sauces is up from tenth to ninth place. The pasta sauces market has grown 4% over the past year to £259m, [TNS 52 w/e September 11, 2005] fuelled by the big brand presence in ambient sauces.
TNS says Dolmio, Loyd Grossman and Bertolli have all experienced double digit growth in the ambient aisle.
However, despite efforts by major suppliers to bring innovation to ambient sauces, smaller players
continue to refer to a lack of ambition.
Parmigiani claims authentic-style packaging and advertising are compensating for a lack of imagination. That said, he believes an innovation revolution is approaching.
Dress Italian produces six pesto sauces in both classic and adventurous recipes, including red pepper & walnut and pistachio & fennel. Sacla’ is also targeting the more adventurous consumer. The company recently launched two new pesto flavours: wild rocket and coriander, which it says are now its top two selling flavoured pesto variants.
Fresh pasta sauces, dominated by own label, are underperforming in the overall category and growth is slowing.
Chilled sauces represent just 15.4% of the total pasta sauce
market while, in pasta, chilled holds a 41.9% share versus ambient, says TNS.
In pasta, the total market has grown in value by 6% over the past year to £207.4m. This is driven by fresh filled pasta, up 14%, and shaped dried pasta.
The value-added perception associated with chilled over dry pasta is an advantage, although the fact that it is one of the most heavily promoted fixtures undoubtedly contributes to short-term growth. According to TNS, more than half of all filled pasta is sold on promotion, attracting 710,000 UK households to the category in the past year (TNS 52 w/e September 11, 2005).
In September, Waitrose introduced six lines of fresh filled free-range egg pasta including large tortelloni with fillings such as pumpkin and pine nuts. The restaurant-inspired products include a little bottle of infused oil.
And while dried pasta is in growth, up 5%, this is in part still being driven by price cuts. Retailers’ EDLP strategies have contributed to dry pasta’s commodity image, says Alessio Puglisi, MD at Sicilian pasta company Puglisi. “No one is investing in the market and there is no interest,” he says.