NEW YORK -- "They call it fresh pasta, but it's got a six-month expiration [date]," lamented food writer Michele Scicolone -- the author of the cookbooks The Antipasto Table, La Dolce Vita and A Fresh Taste of Italy.
She was pointing out one of the contradictions that she said create confusion among supermarket shoppers when they are trying to decide what pasta to prepare that evening.
In an interview with SN, Scicolone expressed her belief that the fresh pasta section could start to merchandise itself better when it begins to live up to its name.
An essential first step to better marketing of fresh pasta, she said, is to get consumers to understand the difference between the fresh and the dry varieties. One effective method of doing this might be through demos showing the different ways of preparing fresh and dry pasta.
"I think [putting] information on packages would [also] help, and [so would having] leaflets to take away," Scicolone said.
She also suggested setting up a separate display for fresh pasta, perhaps in a refrigerated case in the middle of the aisle, with a variety of different shapes and sizes accompanied by a display of sauces to pair them with.
What's more, "I don't see why pasta couldn't be [sold] loose," she said. "I think with Americans' interest in it, it might be time to consider selling pasta loose and made fresh daily."
The current packaging does not support her idea of freshness. "The fettuccine ends are always matted; maybe they stack the packages the wrong way," Scicolone noted.
She recommended the alternative of laying the pasta between sheets of paper, so it wouldn't stick together. This would not only make it seem more special and but would also allow retailers to start offering seasonal stuffings and fillings.
Selling fresh pasta loose would also "elevate the value and allow [retailers] to charge more for it."
She offered several ideas for marketing the high-end appeal of the category, such as "convincing people it's elegant, with photos and menu suggestions, which could be put above the case, on the package or on a tear-off pad."
Another method of making the product more upscale is by "putting a good line of sauces in the case and marketing them side by side with a chart on pairing suggestions."
Such cross merchandising can be expanded to include "local chefs from popular restaurants, who could announce pairings through 30-second spots [on the public address system]," Scicolone said.
"These chefs could have recipe contests using the store brand or customers could submit their own favorite recipes." As an added incentive, Scicolone suggested retailers offer a prize, like a week's free shopping. The top three recipes could then be "passed out, given to the local newspaper, put in the circular and announced over the public announcement system."
Another cross-marketing idea: "Put fresh pasta in the produce aisle near the plum tomatoes and herbs -- or maybe put it with the cheeses."
The fact that fresh pasta is such an easy meal solution is a strong selling factor that should be marketed, she said.
"You could make a basket display of fettuccine Alfredo, so people will feel 'I'll just pick this up, here's an instant dish.' " These meal baskets could be further promoted by special offers like "buy a pound of Parmigiano Reggiano and get a package of fettuccine for free," she recommended.
Better and clearer labeling on pasta packages would also help to lessen consumer confusion. Scicolone stressed the importance of simplifying complicated names and translating and Americanizing as many words as possible.