NEW YORK — Specialty pasta is one of the beneficiaries of the recession and its effect on consumer eating habits.
The sour economy forced many consumers to save money by eating at home more. But that doesn't mean they're all cooking from scratch. Rather, many are using prepared and packaged goods to create a restaurant experience at home, stated Ron Tanner, vice president of communications and education for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade here.
“Instead of spending $30 at an Italian trattoria, they're buying specialty pasta and sauce and having a gourmet meal for two at home for $12,” Tanner said last week in a presentation at NASFT's annual Summer Fancy Food Show here.
Specialty pasta generated $749 million last year at retail (excluding Wal-Mart), a whopping 30% increase from 2007, according to NASFT's State of the Industry 2010 report.
Pasta is one of the specialty industry's fastest-growing segments, following only refrigerated juice and yogurt/kefir. What's more, specialty pasta accounts for 40% of all pasta sales.
Supermarket buyers SN interviewed on the Fancy Food Show floor agreed that specialty pasta and sauce are hot.
Kings Super Markets, Parsippany, N.J., carries all the mainstream pastas, but specialty brand De Cecco is its No. 1 seller, according to Antonio Acosta, King's non-perishables buyer. Likewise, Rao's gourmet sauce is the top-selling sauce.
“Our customers are willing to pay for quality,” Acosta told SN.
One of the popular sauces at the Fancy Food Show was Dave's Gourmet masara sauce, a fusion of lemongrass, coconut and other Thai, Indian and Italian flavors. The product was one of several dozen that won a NASFT gold “sofi” (specialty outstanding food innovation) award.
The sauce, which sells for about $6.99 a jar, is carried at Whole Foods, Roche Bros., Safeway and other retailers.
Along with Italian products, Kings' Acosta was on the lookout for other specialty items that could help Kings' stores stand out from the competition.
“I'm under clear marching orders to find something unique that will differentiate our stores,” he said.
One item that caught Acosta's eye was a potato chip line from a Scottish company called Mackies. The cooking oil is heated by a unique thermal method, resulting in a fresher, crisper chip, according to sales director Ivan Jefford. Available in the U.S. for the first time, the chips come in such unique flavors as Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper and Flame-Grilled Aberdeen Angus.