From a homemade mac n’ cheese, to a suave seafood linguini, pasta can be dressed up or dressed down to meet any everyday or special occasion. Looking to fill up on fibre? There’s a noodle for that. Need an easy, yet nutritional, gluten-free dish? Pasta is your answer. This broad category is ever expanding, adding new skus with new ingredients to match the multitude of today’s nutritional needs.
“That’s the beauty of pasta,” chimes Frank DeMichino, chief operating officer for Italpasta, who adds pasta has been a part of his life since he was old enough to eat it. “It’s a base for local vegetables, or local protein. It’s perfect for merchandising with specialty cheese. There’s no other product that can do as much as pasta.”
With roughly 30 to 32 various long and short cuts of Italpasta in both boxes and cello bags the company certainly showcases the variety traditional pasta offers. While DeMichino admits consumption of traditional pasta may be down (according to Nielsen data, sales of traditional dry pasta are down one per cent in dollars, but up two per cent in volume), he still feels there’s a place for it on grocery shelves.
“There still is a place for real Italian pasta. There’s just that romantic feel that comes with it. There’s historical value since cuts come from certain regions,” he states. However, along with traditional cuts, the company offers vegetable-based, whole grain, fibre-based, and gluten free varieties as well to stay current with category trends. DeMichino adds they are looking at launching a “super” pasta that’s high in fibre, protein, and Omegas, as well as utilizing pulses as a main ingredient, since more functional, health-based varieties are making inroads in to the category.
Certainly one of the segments that has seen steady growth is gluten free pasta. Removal of gluten, a protein found in wheat which is traditionally used to make pasta, has prompted manufacturers to pursue other ingredient sources, mainly rice and corn, to make pasta. As this trends has continued, companies are branching out.
Prairie Harvest, one of the most comprehensive line up of organic pasta in the Canadian market under the brands Prairie Harvest Organic, Artesian Acres Organic Ancient Grain Kamut pasta, and San Zenone Organic Gluten Free pasta, are launching a new and innovative gluten free pasta under the San Zenone brand, which contains four Organic Ancient grains (corn, rice, buckwheat, and quinoa).
“This pasta contains the highly nutritious and very digestible buckwheat grain along with the ever popular quinoa,” states Carlo Facchin, chief executive officer of Prairie Harvest Canada Ltd., adding the brand’s 11 retail skus (manufactured in a dedicated certified gluten free facility) are also available in organic corn pasta, and organic brown rice pasta. “The consumer along with the retailer is always looking for innovation in the category.”
He points to another new offering – a first of its kind dry pasta, which contains organic coconut flour – under the Prairie Harvest brand. The product is produced with a proprietary blend of organic durum semolina and the “on trend” super fruit organic coconut flour.
High fibre is just one of the benefits to NuPasta Inc.’s unique low-calorie, high-fibre, gluten-free alternative to traditional pasta made from konjac flour which contains glucomannan fibres. Glucomannan fibres can hold a large amount of water in a gel form, which is then shaped into pasta. As a result, NuPasta contains 95 per cent water and five per cent fibre in its final pasta-like form so there is no need for the calorie-rich starch found in traditional pasta. While a traditional serving of starch-based pasta would run
300 calories, the same size serving of NuPasta is 23 calories – allowing for more room for toppings such as vegetables, or protein to create a healthier, satisfying meal. Along with being low calorie, one serving of the pasta contains zero net carbs, making it an appealing option for those follows a low-carb diet, or require low-GI foods.
“Konjac-based foods are relatively unknown in North America, but the Japanese have eaten it for hundreds of years,” explains Stephen Cheung of NuPasta, stating the variety of konjac- based foods in Japanese grocery stores is bigger than a North American pasta aisle. “It deserves to be as well known for high fibre as quinoa is for high protein.”
He states since it’s such a unique item (the brand only launched two years ago) its best if retailers demo the product for consumers.
“You can provide consumers with all the information about the benefits of konjac but they won’t understand it fully until they taste it,” says Cheung, adding the brand, which includes spaghetti, fettuccine, and angel hair cuts, was just listed in Western Canada in Whole Foods. Ingredients included for nutritional value have made in road but there has also been significant growth in the artisanal pasta category, particularly the specialty and flavoured cuts of pasta, says Chris MacDonald of Bosa Foods.
“These cuts of pasta are very unique and provide the consumer with a much wider range of choices than the traditional wheat, whole wheat, spelt, or gluten-free pasta options typically sold in many stores,” he states. “For example, we sell porcini mushroom-infused pasta, squid ink-infused pasta, a range of cuts of egg pasta and tri-colour pasta (egg, spinach, and sundried tomato), as well as a variety of five-colour and even eight- colour pasta options.”
The most recent line Bosa Foods has added to their product list, which already includes imported pasta brands from Italy, specifically Italissima brand pasta, and Preferisco brand pasta, is the Dal Sole pasta brand. This brand of pasta is unique in that all the cuts of are bronze- die extruded, meaning the pasta is extruded through a bronze die, which has rougher edges and is not as smooth as the traditional steel dies. The rougher die results in a pasta which has rougher outer edges, which allows the pasta to hold its sauce much better than other traditional cuts.
“When looking at good pasta you want to make sure there’s no cracking, and the pasta has an amber, golden colour,” explains John Porco, COO of Unico Inc., adding it should also have a good “bite”, meaning it’s al dente when cooked.
Providing a high-quality, consistent tasting product has been the main focus of Unico Inc. which acquired the Primo Foods brand in 2006. Porco states since they brought the brand on board, Primo Foods’ market share has doubled, and it’s mainly to do with the company’s choice to use innovative technology and high- quality Canadian hard durum. The climate and growing conditions in the Canadian prairies are ideal for growing high-protein, low-starch wheat that delivers top-quality flavour, texture, and a golden yellow colour.
The way the company actually makes the pasta also stands out – machines, which come directly from Italy, are the biggest in the country, with the highest output of product, properly mixes the semolina and delivers a consistent product. They are also the only Canadian manufacturer to have their own mill onsite in order to grind the durum.
“This ensures we have very good quality control,” states Porco, adding the company’s GrainWise brand, which recently added a high-fibre variety of spaghetti and penne noodles, follows the same process.
Unico also boasts one of the largest tomato processing facilities in Canada (based in Leamington, Ontario, the tomato capital of Canada) where the create Primo’s canned sauces. Customers conscious of quality have somewhat avoided canned pasta sauces, but Porco states the only difference is the package it’s coming in.
“Consumers have the wrong idea about canned products. The quality is the same in glass or a can. We use natural tomatoes, and can them fresh,” he says, adding harvest runs from August to October. “What is different is the price. Canned is just as good and provides great value.”
The company offers 10 skus in their canned varieties ranging from traditional to ramano cheese and basil, to caramelized onion to create a quick, easy, yet tasty, twist on a pasta dish.
Top it off
To use another food comparison, a great sauce on a plate of pasta is like the icing on the cake. Just as different cut of noodles create different experiences, so too does the sauce. And, much like pasta, consumers are looking for healthier options and authentic recipes.
Ocean’s World Cuisine Italian Pasta Sauces are authentically produced in small batches in the heart of Italy from authentic regional recipes handed down from one generation to the next. The company recently launched a Grana Padano cheese variety – a sauce which origins date back to ancient Rome, but became a Sicilian specialty in the early 13th century – as well as a Pomodoro & Ricotta Sauce.
“Red sauces (tomato- based) and cheese-based sauces, such as four cheese sauce or our Pomodoro & Ricotta Sauce are showing good growth. It seems that cheese sauces are growing at the expense of white sauces,” explains Hannes Koller, vice-president of Ocean Brands.
He adds consumers are willing to use these rich, flavourful pasta sauces for use in dishes other than pasta as well, pointing to the company’s website, www.oceanbrands.com, which features recipes such as slow roasted pot roast puttanesca, and spice risotto with butternut squash.
In the very short time Mia’s Kitchen has been in Canada (the brand launched earlier this year) Tomato Basil is by far the market leader, states Jim Kavanagh BrandSeed Marketing Inc. on behalf of Mia’s Kitchen, followed by Sriracha and Portobello.
“Sriracha is one of our faster sellers as there is no other brand right now in the market at this time. And our Portobello is the only one on the market that has the sizes and pieces of mushrooms,” he states, adding Mia’s Kitchen sauces use only the best fresh, high-quality ingredients using no powders or dehydrated ingredients.
Sauces while traditionally placed in the same aisle as the dry pasta, certainly lends itself to off-shelf displays, especially when introducing new brands states Kavanagh.
“Retailers should also make use of secondary placements such as by the meat departments when ground beef or chicken is on sale,” he says.
Having Italian-themed days or flyers is a great way for retailers to group pasta perfect products, adds Italpasta’s DeMichino.
“There’s so many opportunities to cross merchandise with proteins, cheeses, and vegetables,” he states. “There’s great seasonal opportunities there as well. As fall and winter approaches feature a display for baked pastas that would use a seasonal vegetable.”
Great for any season, any dinner occasion, or any diet, there’s a pasta option. And, customers seem to be eating it all up.