According to Euromonitor data, value sales of dried pasta fell by 13% in Western Europe between 2009 and 2014, over double the rate of diminishing North American sales which fell by 6% for the same period. Somewhat surprisingly, Italy is leading the way in this drop which saw its pasta sales fall by one quarter for the same period.
In an online blog post, Euromonitor market analyst, Simone Baroke, attributed this to two factors. “First of all, it is made from gluten-containing wheat, and it is precisely gluten and wheat which a growing number of consumers are trying to avoid. The second issue is that pasta is regarded by many as nothing more than a low-in-nutrients-but-high-in-carbs vehicle for tasty sauces.”
"Despite this, however, pasta manufacturers navigate in a very mature and competitive market that requires serious effort to keep consumers interested," said Mintel food and drink analyst Katya Witham online.
"That’s one of the reasons why German pasta manufacturers are launching a growing number of dry pasta products aligned with current market and consumer trends, such as healthier, free-from and fortified products. More recently, pasta makers have also started exploring opportunities in flavoured pasta concepts, reflecting the increasingly experimental nature of consumers, and in particular of younger, more adventurous cohorts.
Birkel is Germany's top manufacturer of dry egg pasta, and in November last year it launched a range including the flavours ‘tomato and basil’, ‘lemon and chive’ and ‘chanterelle and parsley’.
Witham says that manufacturers wishing to innovate further could look to spices as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition and give their products a premium, sophisticated edge.
Some companies have already started to respond to this demand and a number of dry pasta brands that are favoured with chilli, such as San Vicario's
peperoncini spaghetti or Happy Pasta's peperoncini penne while some have added spices such as turmeric and saffron.
Manufacturers would do well to retain consumers as pasta is still a staple for many Europeans. According to Mintel data, more than two thirds of Germans eat dry pasta at least once a week.
Doing away with durum
Other innovative start-ups are going one step further and doing away with durum wheat altogether.
Earlier this year, FoodNavigator met up with the founder of Seamore, a Dutch company marketing its 100% natural and unprocessed, neutral-tasting sea spaghetti which is, in fact, the seaweed himanthalia.
Willem Sodderland said that although it was more expensive than wheat-based pasta, the growing amount of shelf space occupied by 'high-end', premium pastas - such as organic spelt - meant that consumers were willing to accept the higher price tag.
"Most people are eating too many carbs and not enough veggies, and this is a really simple and elegant way of replacing one with the other. You can still keep on eating your favourite food which is pasta but it’s much more healthy and sustainable,” he said.
Meanwhile, British company CauliRice is trying to bring a fresh look to another carb-heavy staple with its rice made entirely from cauliflower.
Unlike fresh cauliflower rice which, like spiralised courgette or carrot pasta, has a very short shelf-life and has been associated with a significant amount of food waste, CauliRice uses a proprietary method that involves low-temperature retorting to extend the vegetable's shelf life by up to 12 months without the use of additives or preservatives.