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Pass the Pasta

Exciting innovations and endless opportunities for in-store promotions are giving retailers plenty of ways to spruce up a mature category.


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When thinking about traditional pasta, one might imagine Italian grandmothers skillfully rolling out dough to be used in that evening’s family dinner or a chef with a large, white hat cutting gnocchi into perfectly even pieces. Today’s American consumers have not forgotten about pasta’s wholesome roots, but many are looking for more variety and functionality in the pasta aisle. In turn, retailers and manufacturers alike have recognized this need and have responded by reinvigorating pasta aisles with items made from high-quality ingredients and pastas that have been enhanced with protein and super greens.

Organic pasta is the fastest growing segment in the category, according to the National Pasta Association (NPA). While white pastas still comprise three-quarters of the segment, vegetable-infused pastas and pastas made with vegetable powder have posted four straight years of sales growth. Additionally, many different types of pasta shapes and cuts are showing strong growth, which is driven by pasta shoppers’ ever-increasing desire for variety of meals, as 60 percent of households say they are serving pasta as a main dish or side at least once a week, NPA officials say.

It is important that retailers take advantage of the growing opportunities in pasta, with products that cater to every type of consumer hitting the market. While basic white spaghetti and macaroni still hold their own on the sales front, consumers who never would have reached for those products before now have options that cater to their health concerns and dietary restrictions.

“I think people are trying to bring much more to the plate with pasta than they used to,” says Cybele Pascal, founder and CEO of Cybele’s Free to Eat, which offers superfood veggie pastas that are free from the top eight allergens. “It used to be just a carb with some protein, but now I think people are really trying to make it center plate, exciting, not just something to dress up. I think people are becoming less afraid of carbs again, which I’m hoping is true.”

Winning at Pasta

Paul Galvani, chairman of the communications committee for NPA, offers advice on some key ways retailers could ensure they are making the most of their pasta aisles. Citing NPA research, which shows the best performing retailers tend to have a balanced portfolio in terms of the selection they offer, emphasis on merchandising is key. Other successful retail tactics Galvani says bear heeding include a balanced portfolio of both strong national brands and store brands; a strong regional or local offering; and a handful of strong import or other specialty brands. According to Galvani, the retailers connecting the most with pasta shoppers carry between 15 and 20 percent more variety items than other, averaging at 100 items.

Further, since the pasta shelf has not increased in size, and in ways has even decreased, setting up the shelf set optimally for both shopper appeal and efficiency is key, Galvani notes.

“Winning retailers show a better ‘balance’ of display support across store brands, national, regional, and import and specialty brands,” he advises. “They also tend to put more items and choice on their displays, given consumer/shopper need for variety across days and weeks.”

Amanda Wirth, assistant sales manager for the Eastern division of Safeway, a subsidiary of the Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos., says the retailer works to keep its pasta aisles stocked with the latest innovations in the category, citing that value-added pasta products, such as those made from vegetables and legumes, and eco-friendly pastas are among the biggest hits with their shoppers.

“We are always innovating and differentiating ourselves,” Writhe affirms. “We work closely with our manufacturers to offer exciting promotions. And we often tie-in complementary products from other sections of the store so that customers can find even more value when pairing items.”

The Finer Things

Bob Donnola, VP of sales for Stonington, Conn.-based Euro-USA Trading Co., makers of the Jovial pasta line, agrees that good category management is about a balanced approach.

 “It’s not just saying, ‘cheap is what everybody wants now. Let’s carry cheap stuff,’” he explains. “If you’re a store that attracts people who want finer cuts of meats, or imported cheeses, that foodie who’s willing to pay more, then obviously you want to pick top sellers.”

Donnola says that his company works to educate retailers about its products and deliver on both quality and price. The company also offers instant redeemable coupons that stick to the package of its products.

“Retailers love that because that draws attention to the product on the shelf,” he says.

Galvani suggests offering tiered private label, regional and national-specialty pricing every day, with attractive promotions especially on regional and national brands in the optimal weeks.

Angelo Iantosca, president of New York City-based Rana USA, says he has learned how premium, fresh pasta consumers differ and what they are looking for during his tenure in the category.

“Fresh pasta attracts the ideal consumer; affluent, educated households, usually with children,” he says. “They are highly oriented to buying the perimeter of the store, over index against most premium products such as wines, and represent the customer that most retailers covet.”

Getting Over Gluten Free?

The gluten-free craze has, in many ways, become old news, but this does not mean there are no longer consumers out there who are gluten intolerant or choosing to live the gluten-free lifestyle. These consumers now have better-tasting options than they did in years past and many gluten-free pasta options have added benefits.

Galvani notes that while gluten-free pasta dollar sales have slowed in the last year, the segment is continuing to grow on a unit basis as more items are available at more attainable prices. He adds that after more than five years of growth, gluten free is now the largest value-added pasta segment on the market.

Pasta Meets Produce – and Adds Pizazz

While working with manufacturers on in-store promotions is a great way for retailers to boost pasta sales, there are plenty of ways to promote using what is already lying around the store. One way to do this is to find clever, secondary placements for pasta in aisles that will help shoppers come up with a cohesive meal idea and grab the item.

At a northern New Jersey Acme Market, associates recently got creative and found an unexpected secondary placement for dried pasta. The team set up a table in the produce section and adorned it with red, white and green balloons to represent the Italian flag. They created a “one-stop-shop” for a delicious Italian meal by stocking the table with the dried pasta and jarred sauce from the center store aisles alongside fresh basil, parmesan and bowls of ice water filled with fresh mozzarella. The attractive display was designed to give shoppers an idea for a quick weeknight meal that tasted closer to a homemade Sunday gravy dinner. It also helped showcase how products found around the store could easily create a turn-key meal.

This type of innovation within the store can help boost any category. Pasta may be a staple that has been sitting in the center of the store for decades, but that doesn’t mean retailers can’t get creative and give shoppers a new take on an old 

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