Yes, it’s an inexpensive meal solution, but premium pastas continue to gain ground.
Thanks to strong sales in several smaller subcategories, the frozen pasta category outperformed the frozen department as a whole during the 12 weeks ended July 16. Dollar sales shot up 12.7% as rising commodity costs forced higher-than-average price increases, but units were down only 2.7% according to Chicago-based market research firm Circana. Volume losses (-1.6%) were even smaller, suggesting a shift to better-value big packs. What’s behind the category’s recent success?
‘Consumers are willing to pay a little more for a premium product.’
Manufacturers say frozen pasta has a few things going for it. “It’s a comfort food that’s convenient — and it won’t spoil. It sits in the freezer until you decide to bring it out,” says Simone Drake, co-owner of High Point, N.C.-based Drake’s Fresh Pasta Co. And once it’s out of the freezer, she continues, “You can boil it up in 7 to 8 minutes, add some olive oil and a piece of chicken, and dinner is served.”
Another big selling point: frozen pasta is often meatless. So not only does it appeal to the growing number of vegetarians and flexitarians, it’s also much more affordable than most center-of-the-plate options — an increasingly important con- sideration during these inflationary times. That said, industry observers say a growing number of consumers are opting for premium frozen pastas that can be used to recreate dishes they may have enjoyed at their favorite Italian restaurant. “Consumers are keenly aware of the rising cost of food,” says Drake. But since they’re already cutting back on restaurant visits, “They continue to splurge on really high-end and/or unique products [for at-home consumption].” So it’s an affordable indulgence.
For its part, Drake’s offers a full line of hand-crafted frozen pastas and pasta-based family meals under its Parla Pasta brand. Made from fresh in small batches with all-natural ingredients and no preservatives, the frozen items are exactly the same as the products Drake’s makes for its foodservice customers, says Drake.
Among the newest restaurant-quality products coming to grocers’ freezers are a pair of gluten-free stuffed pastas (Four Cheese Tortellini and Spinach Ravioli) from Montreal-based Oggi Foods. After multiple requests from customers and years of research and development, says president Stefano Cataldo, “We created a gluten-free stuffed pasta that tastes identical to traditional stuffed pasta.” Yes, it’s a bit more expensive. But increasingly health-minded consumers are much more aware of what they put into their bodies, he says, “So they’re willing to pay a little more for a premium product.”