U.S. pasta sales up as consumers seek cost-effective food options; domestic market grew 5% in 2008 to US$6.4B, according to nation's largest manufacturer of dry pasta

KANSAS CITY, Missouri , January 21, 2009 () – As struggling consumers turn to casseroles, soup, pasta salad, and good old macaroni and cheese to stretch their food dollars, the nation’s pasta makers are returning to a rolling boil after many years overshadowed by the low-carbohydrate fad.

Sales of pasta products in the United States — including frozen and refrigerated pasta, canned pasta, soup mixes and prepared dinners — rose 5 percent last year to $6.4 billion, according to Kansas City-based American Italian Pasta Co., the nation’s largest manufacturer of dry pasta.

Most of that increase came as manufacturers passed along a stiff jump in the price of wheat and other costs.

But Peter Smith, chief executive of Harrisburg, Pa.-based New World Pasta, which makes such brands as Ronzoni, American Beauty and Creamette, said he was amazed that commodity price increases last year didn’t dampen pasta sales the way they did sales of other consumer goods.

“I think what happened this past year is with all the inflation running rampant through the stores,” he said, “it’s like a certain number of people rediscovered pasta.”

Smith said revenue at his company rose 25 percent last year to around $460 million while volume grew between 1 percent and 2 percent.

Total U.S. consumption rose 0.4 percent by volume, according to the Nielsen Co., although those number don’t include sales at Wal-Mart Stores, where industry officials say noodle numbers grew even faster.

The volume increase is particularly welcome because pasta consumption had been falling 1 percent or 2 percent annually for years because of high-protein diet fads, said Carol Freysinger, spokeswoman for the National Pasta Association.

“There’s this renewed vigor, this renewed energy in the pasta companies,” Freysinger said. “They really got beat up by the low-carb diets, which showed to not be that effective in the long run.

“Pasta has been vindicated,” she said. “And the economy is driving consumers to more cost-effective options.”

Judy Donnellan, 45, was shopping for macaroni at a grocery store in Kansas City on Tuesday and said her family eats pasta three or four times a week.

“It’s simple and cheap, and I have kids and that’s something they like,” Donnellan said.

She said she couldn’t tell if she was buying pasta more than before but said the staple’s price and flexibility “is basically why I use it.”

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