The Grocer’s 2017 Top Products Survey, THE definitive guide to the current state of the UK’s grocery industry

Ask any health blogger, and they’ll tell you carbs should be shunned.They’re dumpy and miserable and will only make you more so. So how come the supers have sold an extra 20.9 million packs of rice & noodles this past year?

The 7.9 million (1.2%) fewer packs of spuds sold over the past year have a lot to do with it. As demand for quicker evening meals grows, potatoes are falling out of fashion. For those who haven’t gone low carb (let’s face it that’s still the majority, in spite of what the bloggers tell us), rice & noodles are increasingly attractive, particularly in light of the current vogue for Asian cuisines.

Rice has been the key beneficiary of this, with value sales up 0.4% (£1.5m) on volumes up 7.9%. The 5.3% fall in average price per unit is driven by two factors: branded ready to heat pouches increasingly sold on £1 deals are behind much of rice’s growth and cheaper own-label offerings (particularly in ready to heat rice) are stealing share of the category.

“The main affected segment was ready to heat rice with average prices down 5.7% versus the previous year, with all main brands decreasing prices,” says Nielsen senior client manager Beatriz Morgado. “Rice is growing in all channels but much faster in the discounters, especially in ready to heat. Dry rice is in decline.”

Brands want to maintain value by appealing to the health conscious with the addition of wholegrains and ‘super’ grains such as quinoa. In August, Spar UK grocery trading manager Louisa Redford told us that Uncle Ben’s new Rice & Grains range, which includes blends of rice, quinoa and pearl wheat, had been “really well received”. Overall, the brand is up 1.6% in value, 6% in volume.

They’re all at it. Tilda is up 1.7% to £76.5m on volumes up 5.9% thanks in part to its basmati & quinoa and pulses & rice pouches. In the summer, Riso Gallo unveiled four ready to heat whole and supergrain varieties under its Pronto sub-brand, to arrest falling sales. Nevetheless, the brand is still down, by 5.8% on volumes that have fallen 1.3%.

Ready-to-heat convenience isn’t the only way to grow in rice, however. It might be in decline, but with savvy promotions it’s still possible to get a rise out of dry rice. Just look at the steaming performance of Surya Foods’ Laila brand, which has turned in the greatest branded growth of the year, up 43.9% (£2.6m) on volumes up 38.9%.

“This has been driven by strategic promotional activity during key periods over the last year,” explains Surya’s MD Harry Dulai. “Now national retailers have realised they have to be competitive on the key commodities around religious festivals and national events, consumers are benefiting from fierce competition between supermarkets. We schedule the majority of our price promotions around key seasonal times like Chinese New Year, Ramadan and Diwali. Our promotions during Ramadan 2017 were exceptional and consumers were on the winning end.”

pasta chef png

It’s time to rethink good old spag bol. That’s the controversial claim of Italian pasta maker Barilla. “It definitely is time to rethink spaghetti bolognese,” says UK brand manager Irene Ippolito. “If you go to Italy and ask for a spag bol they just won’t understand – for a start we use tagliatelle and the bolognese is called a ‘ragù’. There’s much more you can do with pasta – things that are quicker and nicer. What we’re really trying to do is change pasta from something that’s seen as quick and cheap to something that is quick and chic.”

Intensifying competition around these events could spell trouble for rice, however. Dulai says that retailers are using bulk dry rice as a loss leader. “The combination of price inflation, poor basmati crops and falls in the value of the pound resulted in promotions where our rice was being sold for less than the replacement cost to us,” he explains. “This resulted in many customers bulk buying rice to take advantage of Ramadan deals fixed well in advance.”

Unlike rice, noodle prices are on the rise, thanks in part to the development of healthier wholewheat varieties. For example, market leader Sharwood’s (which has suffered a 2.4% dip in sales, partly as a result of the growing emphasis retailers are putting on own label) said in the summer that wholewheat noodles were up 26%. “Our new wholewheat noodles are targeting busy shoppers who want to cook with healthier alternatives but still require products that are quick to prepare,” said Yilmaz Erceyes, brand director for cooking sauces at manufacturer Premier Foods.

Wholewheat is also attracting growing attention in the struggling pasta sector, which has seen sales dip by 1.4% in value and 0.8% in volume (again, deflation is being driven primarily by own label’s growth). “We’ve introduced new varieties of pasta such as our wholewheat pasta, which is still delicious but gives you 20% of the fibre you need daily,” says Barilla brand manager Irene Ippolito. “Also our gluten-free pasta appeals to not just people who can’t eat gluten for health reasons but also to the growing number of people who want to reduce gluten as a lifestyle choice.”

The free-from and healthy eating movements are exercising many in the world of pasta, including leading brand Napolina. It’s easy to see why: the brand’s sales have slumped 9.2% to £28.9m on volumes down 5.5%. “We’ve launched an innovative range of Green Pea and Red Lentil Gluten Free Organic Vegetable pasta, which counts towards one of your five a day, as well as being high in protein and a source of fibre,” says marketing director Neil Brownbill. “As the brand leader in wholewheat pasta, Napolina is outperforming the category and has been quick to respond to consumer trends by launching its 50%/50% pasta range and extending its wholewheat range.”

But for Ippolito, pasta’s travails are down to something more systemic than a health fad. “The pasta market is struggling because pasta has come to be perceived as a quick fix meal for the middle of the week with the kids; something that doesn’t need much cooking or creativity,” shes says. “We can change this by educating consumers that there are many more things we can do with pasta by using a little bit of creativity. Pasta can be a canvas for many more fresh ingredients.”

Barilla is looking to do this by working with British chefs to extol the virtues of pasta as a versatile, convenient yet sophisticated meal. And it seems to be working. After entering the UK a few years ago, the world’s biggest pasta manufacturer has achieved sales of £3.7m, a spike of 27.7% in the past year.

Clearly, pasta is not past it yet.


oomi protein noodles

Oomi Protein Noodles by Oomi

The rising popularity of Japanese food is reflected in the launch of Oomi noodles. The startup company has also claimed a world first with this handy two-portion snap pack which contains ready-to-eat, gluten-free noodles with 75% less carbs than regular noodles. Oomi says this is down to its patented Japanese technology using Alaskan MSC-certified sustainable fish to deliver 115g of noodles packing 12g of protein, which is two-and-a-half times more than regular noodles.


The Grocer Top Products Survey 2017: Up!