MANGIA, MANGIA!

Retailers are saucing up frozen-pasta sales with temporary price reductions, half-price features and buy-one, get-one-free offers."We do a lot of promotion for bag pasta," said Mike Takas, frozen-food category manager for Kash n' Karry Food Stores, Tampa, Fla."We have good relations with suppliers and do quite a bit of buy-one, get-one-free activity on pasta," he said.Kash n' Karry runs two-for-$5

Retailers are saucing up frozen-pasta sales with temporary price reductions, half-price features and buy-one, get-one-free offers.

"We do a lot of promotion for bag pasta," said Mike Takas, frozen-food category manager for Kash n' Karry Food Stores, Tampa, Fla.

"We have good relations with suppliers and do quite a bit of buy-one, get-one-free activity on pasta," he said.

Kash n' Karry runs two-for-$5 promotions and attractive price points in ads once or twice a quarter. BOGOs are featured about once a month.

"We frequently promote pasta entrees through ConAgra," said Takas.

Takas uses in-store signage for featured items. "We'll often have an individual broker solicit stores for extra bunker space adjacent to the frozen-food aisle, at the front or back of the store," he said.

Promotions are especially important in the category, since frozen pasta isn't a fast-moving item, retailers said.

"We have sale-item movement on pasta," said an East Coast frozen-food manager, who did not wish to be identified.

The chain runs half-price promotions nearly every three weeks, rotating popular brands like Celentano and Italian Village.

"When pasta is on sale, the consumer usually buys four or five packages at a time," the source explained.

The retailer devotes 8 to 10 feet of coffin space to bagged pasta and 6 to 8 feet of doors to pasta entrees.

The source said pasta, especially manicotti and stuffed shells, does well when promoted. Therefore, the retailer promotes entrees about six times a year.

"The best season for pasta is September through the holidays," he noted. "That's when people [are getting food from] their gardens, like tomatoes, zucchini and broccoli."

Rice Food Markets, Houston, mostly buys high-end pasta, which is promoted in a customer newsletter, said Scott Silverman, specialty-food buyer. Temporary price reductions are also used.

"We carry Cafferata pasta, a colorful line of ravioli and tortellini. We brought in this new line because the presentation is a little better. It's an unusual line," he explained. Rice stores also demo this pasta, which is stuffed with such delectables as porcini mushrooms and lobster.

Silverman also carries Celentano and other lines of pasta. "But we sell so much refrigerated that the frozen pasta just hasn't taken off," he continued. Silverman runs ads in a weekly circular a few times a year for Celentano products, at a deeper discount than a temporary price reduction.

The retailer allots 4 to 6 feet to frozen pasta and pasta entrees.

"Wolfgang Puck lasagna is doing very well. It's more of a ready meal, and it's high quality," he said. Silverman promotes this product about four times a year with ads and temporary price reductions.

The most popular brands of pasta for the Harris Teeter chain, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., are Rossetto, Putney Pasta and Italian Village, according to Ruth Kinzey, spokeswoman for the chain.

"About one and a half doors are filled with frozen pasta," she said. "We find this product is more popular in the fall and winter months."

Harris Teeter puts pasta on special once a quarter, according to Kinzey. "When specials are run, we expand the current display rather than utilizing an endcap," she said.

"Sales have increased over the last year. We are pleased with the results," she continued.

Byrd Food Stores, Burlington, N.C., sells pasta entrees, but not bagged pasta.

In addition, its stores have begun cross merchandising meal-solution products from Birds Eye and Green Giant with the entrees, according to Mike Byrd, frozens and dairy buyer.

"Green Giant's Pasta Accents are displayed with the vegetables, but "Create a Meal" is with the entrees," he explained.

Keith Abels, frozen-food buyer for Econofoods in Worthington, Minn., an affiliate of Nash Finch Co.'s Minnesota division, recently had a special bunker display of Green Giant. "Create a Meal" bags and Pasta Accents were recently on special.

The pasta combos with vegetables are doing well, but pasta is not a big seller for Abels. "We are meat and potatoes people," he claimed. The retailer also carries a bagged line.

Though pasta sales increased last year at Kash n' Karry, its unit sales slipped, said Takas. Nevertheless, Takas anticipates a good year for the category.

"I think we are on the right track in promoting pasta more in 1997," he said, citing that comfort foods like pasta are expected to do well this year.

Some buyers also indicated pasta lines that are perceived as meal solutions will generate more sales than pasta bags.

Silverman of Rice Food Markets said that was why Wolfgang Puck entrees have been popular, for example, and the East Coast manager said that pasta entrees do well, even when they are not promoted.

Takas of Kash n' Karry said he has faith in the new frozen Progresso pasta, which comes in a boiling bag and includes a seasoning packet.

"I believe it will be quite a sensation in the pasta category," he continued.

According to recent sales data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, the pasta category had a respectable increase in 1996. Figures for the 52-week period ended Dec. 29, 1996 showed that dollar sales were $243.6 million, a 5.9% increase from the previous year, while unit sales were up 1.7%.

Consumption of frozen pasta has been increasing steadily, according to data obtained from the National Pasta Association, Arlington, Va.

According to information provided to the Association by IRI, volume (in pounds) for frozen pasta (not including entrees or side dishes) went from 39.3 million in 1991 to 62 million in 1995.

The percent of change, year to year, was most dramatic in 1994, in which pasta consumption jumped 17.6% from the previous year. In 1995, volume increased by 10.3%.