Multiples: fresh fusions for those fickle foodies Whacky flavours and sweet surprises grace the fixtures with the greatest grocery potential Atour of the fresh pasta fixtures could soon begin to resemble an exotic, multi-destination holiday. A blend of new ideas holds out the promise of a delicate fusion of flavours from different parts of the world. Indulge in a little time travel and there are sauces for the seasons. For the unshockable there are pasta hearts rich in chocolate, and for the adventurous, vodka and chilli sauce. These exciting recipes are now making their way on to the multiples' fresh pasta shelves as part of their own label offerings. Sainsbury's does the vodka & chilli sauce and Martin Phippen, category buyer for fresh pasta and sauces, says the purpose is to bring interest and excitement to the fixture to tempt more consumers into fresh pasta. "Consumer penetration is quite low in a category which represents one of the biggest opportunities in grocery. Our aim is to get more people into it and build penetration," says Phippen. He spotted the vodka & chilli sauce on a product-finding trip to the US and thought it had potential. "The US has lots of whacky flavours, such as tomato and gin, and martini and chilli, which taste fantastic. We developed the vodka & chilli sauce with our suppliers, introduced it in July as part of our core range and now it's in our top third bestsellers." Sainsbury's main vehicle for trying out unusual flavours is Sauce of the Season, a limited edition range changed every three or four months. "Flavours tend to be slightly off the wall, like our current offer, artichoke & olive, a rather polarising product because people either love or hate the ingredients," says Phippen. The seasonal range has succeeded in bringing new tastes to the fore and expanding the market. "Two years ago, we were the first to introduce tomato & mascarpone. Now every retailer stocks it," Phippen adds. The next creative step is fusing flavours from different cuisines: pasta parcels with Thai vegetables is about to be launched. "At the same time we're not neglecting the entry point, and are adding a mushroom sauce to the core range," says Phippen. Safeway is also making pasta a priority, creating six special pastas and sauces for its premium Best range which are going on to the shelves this month. Catherine Lee, fresh pasta buyer, says: "The category is hugely important to us. We overtrade in it with a 15% share compared to our 10.5% share of total grocery. We try to appeal to as broad a spectrum of consumers as possible and the new Best pasta products are aimed at the more affluent, experienced consumer who wants to experiment." The range is certainly adventurous, a major step change from me-too, play safe own label developments, and includes such specialities as large black and white (cuttlefish ink and egg) ravioli generously filled with finely minced lamb and mint. "The influence is more modern British than Italian, with a bigger, softer filling and no breadcrumb padding," says Lee. "We've gone for bigger fillings with all the parcels. It takes away the need for a heavy sauce because the flavour is in the fillings." Other products include mushroom & mascarpone filling in paprika marbled egg pasta; flower shaped roast pepper and goats cheese parcels, coloured pink with tomato; and wide ribbons of sundried tomato flecked papperdelle with a pesto dressing. But the big surprise is the sweet chocolate heart pasta with white chocolate sauce. "The idea came from our pasta supplier who dished it up at the end of a presentation as a bit of fun," says Lee. "I thought it was so good we've added it to the range. It's unexpected, looks good and will appeal to chocoholics. It's only just come out, so we don't know how it will sell, but it's good enough to be worth the risk." Lee says a PR and marketing programme is underway to make consumers aware of the entire Best range. Marks & Spencer has six filled fresh pasta lines, and a similar number of fresh sauces as part of its Italia range relaunched earlier this year. Like Safeway, it has gone for large ravioli parcels with more substantial, slightly coarser fillings without breadcrumbs to improve the quality and flavour. Italian meals product developer Claire Pocock says they are of premium Italian restaurant quality. Fillings include prosciutto & basil ­ the bestseller ­ feta cheese & black olive, smoked salmon and roasted mushroom. Sauces are mostly classics. "Our next step is seasonal flavours lighter for spring and summer and more robust for winter," says Pocock. "Our fresh pasta customers are foodies who tire quickly of flavours and need variety to keep their interest alive." {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}