Fresh pasta may be stealing a march in the market, but it is still far from over for dried. Jaq Bayles reports
Fresh pasta specialist Pasta Reale is rather happy with life at the moment. Operating in a burgeoning market, the UK's brand leader has just relaunched its Ristorante range of pasta parcels and is basking in the glory of a 25% surge in sales in its category.
The rise, it seems, is at the expense of its dried relative which is stuck on a £96m sales plateau. However, while the lion's share of fresh pasta sales remain own label, branded dried pasta producers are putting up a spirited performance in their sector.
Typical of those dried pasta producers continuing to wrestle market share from own label is Barilla, which claims that shape is now everything in the heavily subscribed market. The brand has bucked the overall trend in the market over the past couple of years by experiencing meteoric growth, and claims to have reached a 4% value share in the UK dried pasta market [ACNielsen] and an 8% share of the pasta sector in Tesco.
The company's UK managing director, Gabriele Zecca, puts the increase in spontaneous brand awareness from 7% to 22% down to the investment in promotion, assortment, advertising, couponing and category management and says such activities will continue to grow the category.
In the past year Barilla has concentrated on catering to the demand for different pasta cuts to accompany different types of sauces and its La Collezione range includes Casarecce, Mafaldine, Fettucine, Tortelloni and Tortellini.
Zecca says: "The explosion in the popularity of Italian restaurants and chefs who now also advise supermarkets on their recipes and fresh foods has made Italian food more accessible and trendy. The anglicised spaghetti bolognese and lasagne have been replaced by meat and pasta meals which are nutritious and delicious."
He attributes the all-round high quality profile of Italian culture in the UK to the influence of fashion houses such as Armani and Versace, along with other brands like Alessi and Ferrari, and says Barilla has capitalised on this cultural visibility with its sponsorship of national events such as last year's Pavarotti concert in Hyde Park. He believes education is key to growing dried pasta and the company's nationwide sampling programme has been geared towards persuading consumers of the quality of the company's offering.
However, Barilla's aggressive promotional drive has some way to go if it is to topple Nestl駳 Buitoni from the top slot, and that brand is keen to hang on to its crown with a consumer-driven approach to segmentation.
It reckons its focus will deliver an incremental £24m (20% growth) to the category over the next five years and is approaching the sector as three segments: everyday', with speed and convenience the key drivers; sociable', focusing on meal enjoyment and interaction between people; and foodie', aimed at shoppers seeking premium, authentic brands and offering speciality pasta shapes.
But while Buitoni and Barilla take supremacy in the branded dried pasta stakes, other companies are continuing to muscle in with new products, such as Loyd Grossman Premium Pasta, launched as a complement to his Original Recipe sauces.
A relative newcomer to the pasta sector, Napolina is attempting to cash in on its brand custodian' image with five dried pasta varieties designed to appeal to a younger audience wanting to trade up.