cauli rice

Top launch: Cauli Rice - Cauli Rice Ltd

Swapping white rice for a cauliflower substitute (with 75% less calories) might sound like a trend reserved for health fanatics, but the success of Cauli Rice proves it holds far broader appeal. 200g pouches of the rice replacement launched in Tesco, Waitrose and Whole Foods Market in early 2015, with consumers so enthused that 325 of them backed its expansion with a £642,000 investment on Crowdcube. The business was also runner-up in Richard Branson’s 2015 Pitch To Rich competition.

Nice and easy, that’s how consumers like their carbs. Brands serving light and fluffy rice in portion-sized pouches ready in just a few microwaveable minutes were on to a winner, with convenience formats driving much of the market’s £5.3m growth in 2015. 

Brands quick to capitalise on ready-to-heat walked away with a share of that. Market leader Uncle Ben’s added five Rice & Grains SKUs to its Express rice portfolio in April, driving sales up 1.5% on volumes up 3.1%, and Tilda (up 6.5% on solid volume growth) launched limited-edition variants, including Firecracker hot spicy rice in October.

“We know that the main driver of pouch rice is convenience and taste,” says Julia Oana Nicoara, a spokeswoman for Uncle Ben’s owner Mars. “Pouch rice addresses many of the barriers associated with dry rice by making the cooking time and portion control simple and easy and ensuring less food waste,” she adds.

That’s not to say Brits are no longer bulk buying rice, however. Kohinoor has seen sales rise 30.8% on volumes up 53.4%, thanks to growing listings of its large format basmati, while mainstream brands including Veetee, which saw a 20.8% value increase on volumes up 33.1% of its Badshah basmati range (sold in bags of 500g to 40kg), are also doing well.

British multiculturalism is responsible for much of rice’s increasing appeal, believes Anna Beheshti, head of mainstream marketing at Tilda, bringing a greater appetite for far-flung cuisines, many of which use rice as their core carbohydrate. “Compared with pasta, rice is versatile and part of many cultures and cuisines globally,” she says.

Rice brands have tapped this versatility with a flurry of NPD throughout 2015, adds Budgens buyer Dani Al-Karaghouli. “Innovation has really come from flavours,” he says. “Chinese, Indian and Mexican influences have all been popular.”

Rice’s perceived health benefits have also helped, says Beheshti. “Rice is naturally gluten free whereas pasta is made with wheat, and more and more households consider themselves to have gluten intolerance. It’s likely only the minority is diagnosed but it’s a general health perception that bread and pasta are evil, and so rice is favoured.”

Tilda says its wholegrain varieties, in both ready to heat and dry, have been among its bestselling SKUs. Its steamed basmati wholegrain & quinoa has been the most successful NPD, with sales exceeding £1m in the first 12 months after its launch. Uncle Ben’s went all out for the launch of its Rice & Grains varieties this year with a TV campaign, PR, and an online recipe book in partnership with The Body Coach, Joe Wicks.

Noodle volumes rise

Increasing concern over expanding waistlines coupled with a taste for the exotic has also led Brits to slurp up more noodles in 2015. Volumes are up 5.1%, although (as with rice) value growth couldn’t keep up, growing 1.2%, indicating that price is increasingly important in the market.

Premium South East Asian-styled brands took much of this volume growth, albeit from small bases. These include the likes of Thai President’s Mama noodles (up 25.6%) and Bespoke Foods’ Thai Taste (up 37.3%), with Sharwood’s and Amoy losing out to the surge in own-label varieties, driving down average prices 3.6%. More consumers are dodging carbs, driving growth in low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, gluten and sugar-free noodles from Bare Naked Foods. The brand saw additional sales of £307k in 2015.

With rice & noodles on the rise, retailers resorted to slashing own-label pasta prices to keep shoppers loyal. The tactic kept volumes steady but drove down value by 4.4% overall, and by 3.4% for brands. As a result, double-digit value losses plagued some of the biggest brands, such as Cook Italian, Buitoni and My Dolmio. Barilla managed to buck the trend thanks to its relaunch into UK supermarkets in late 2014 after a 10-year hiatus.

Not all product lines are stagnant, insists Dean Towey, marketing director at market leader Napolina, with “significant growth” in sales of free-from and whole wheat varieties, he adds, alongside a 17% surge in value of its premium bronze die pasta.

To appeal to shoppers, pasta brands need to up the ante on education, he believes. “Napolina sees education around the different usages for each type of pasta and pasta shapes as key to driving long-term category growth and to support this, we are improving pack and SRP communication as well as merchandising pasta alongside suitable sauces, where possible.”

After all, the right pasta with the right sauce can be a marriage made in heaven.

TOP 10 Rice  SALES
        £m change (£m) change (%)
Total volume change: 2.8% Total Category 399.6 5.3 1.3
      Total Own Label 118.1 –2.7 –2.3
1 1 Uncle Ben’s Mars 138.6 2 1.5
2 2 Tilda Tilda 71.8 4.4 6.5
3 3 Veetee Veetee 16.2 –4.4 –21.2
4 4 Batchelors Premier Foods 9.3 0.5 6
5 6 Kohinoor Kohinoor Foods 6.1 1.4 30.8
6 5 Laila Surya Rice 5.6 –0.5 –8.4
7 20 Amira Amira Foods 3.8 3 357.7
8 8 Badshah Veetee 3.2 0.6 20.8
9 7 Riso Gallo Gallo 3 0.1 2.3
10 12 Trophy Satnam Overseas 2.3 0.9 66.5

Get 20% off the full category ranking. Click here and enter discount code NIELSENGROCER

TOP 10 Pasta  SALES
        £m change (£m) change (%)
Total volume change: –0.5% Total Category 216.7 –9.9 –4.4
      Total Own Label 135.8 –7.1 –5.0
1 1 Napolina Princes Foods 27.9 –0.3 –1.1
2 2 De Cecco De Cecco 11.5 –0.3 –2.9
3 3 Cook Italian La Doria 10.3 –1.3 –10.9
4 5 Napolina Bronze Die Princes Foods 8.2 1.2 16.6
5 4 Buitoni Nestlé 5.2 –3.2 –37.9
6 6 Marshalls Marshalls Foods 3.1 –0.2 –6.7
7 21 Barilla Euro Food Brands 1.5 1.3 922.1
8 7 My Dolmio Mars 1.2 –0.2 –14.7
9 8 Seeds Of Change Mars 1.2 –0.0 –1.5
10 9 Happy Shopper Booker 0.9 0 –7.8

Get 20% off the full category ranking. Click here and enter discount code NIELSENGROCER