Mamma mia! British shoppers are showing an ever increasing appetite for a plate of good old spag bol', and more besides. But we're still a long way behind other pasta-eating nations, says Simon Mowbray

An average Italian consumes a heavyweight 27.5kg of pasta each year. We Brits, however, only manage a meagre 2.5kg each, despite the dish's image as a healthy, low-fat, easy to prepare and versatile dish for today's time-strapped consumers.
That might just be expected, critics may argue. After all, the Italians, and indeed other nationals, are weaned on pasta from an early age. And the critics would be right.
For the reality is that while we may still be way behind our Italian brethren in terms of consuming, selling and shifting volume, the figures for all sectors but dried pasta are still going in the right direction. Dried pasta, stuck at around the £96m mark in terms of annual sales and perennially dogged by the dominance of own label (around 75% of all sales), may be the sector's current poor relation in performance terms, but look at the emerging fresh pasta and chilled sauces market and a different picture is emerging.
According to figures from TNS Superpanel, sales of fresh pasta rocketed by 25% in the year to September and currently stand at more than £74m, claiming a 43.6% share of the total pasta market. Pasta sauces, both ambient and chilled, have also enjoyed a good year, growing sales by more than 8% to top £240m for the first time.
It's a trend that both manufacturers and retailers can expect to continue. For while many elderly consumers continue to shun the market, there is a generation of new shoppers which is showing a healthy appetite for all Italian food.
According to market analyst Mintel, which has compiled a report into Britain's pasta habits, pasta is now popular with consumers of nearly all ages, with the possible exception of the current over-54 population (nearly a fifth of 55 to 64-year-olds and one third of over-64s admitted they did not eat pasta, says the report). But that will not remain the case forever as younger consumers eventually enter that age group and take their consumption habits with them.
There is also good news in the finding that the number of those who do not eat pasta has remained static since 1998, while those who do are upping their weekly intake to two or three portions.
The challenge facing suppliers, according to Mintel, is how to widen the market base by appealing to more consumers, especially families, who are the biggest buyers in the food market. However, as the following sections will prove, the message is already being taken on board with pasta and pasta sauces becoming one of the most lively markets in terms of new products which actually get to stick around.
For example, the days when cooking pasta at home meant knocking up a spag bol and nothing else are clearly over as the pasta cooking sauce market reaps the rewards of manufacturer innovation to move consumers beyond traditional dishes alone. Current new favourites, brought to shelf by a growing number of manufacturers and suppliers, include pasta bakes, stir-in and pour-over sauces and pesto-style products. Expect even more over the next year.