"Noodles is the Asian ­spaghetti," asserts ­Sharwood's marketing manager, Helen Williams, who says they are particularly popular among 20 and 30-somethings.

"Instant noodles will always be the ultimate convenience food, being quick and easy to prepare and having cost advantages over straight-to-wok products," adds Sonya Stewart, Sco-Fro's managing director of its grocery division.

You'll find a pack of dried noodles in an increasing number of kitchen cupboards these days as consumers reach for easier meals, such as stir fries and for occasions when rice is too much hassle. And, according to Batchelors, they're not just the preserve of ethnic meals. "Contrary to popular belief, pack noodles' heartland lies with young families serving noodles as a savoury alternative to potatoes. This forms part of a main meal as an accompaniment to the meat and vegetables," says Super Noodles brand manager Louise Shaw.

Instant noodles producers have traditionally relied on ethnic stores and those cash & carries serving ethnic retailers for their core business, according to Adrian Joel, executive sales director at Kohlico Group, which sells the Ko-Lee brand.

However, he says, this

is changing. "We have

seen the major multiples introducing their own label budget brands, thus creating downward pressure

on retail prices." n