Pasta has been a mainstay on American menus since colonial times. Macaroni and cheese—that beloved comfort food—was introduced by the English, who had adopted the dish after visits to Northern Italy in the 18th century. Following the Italian immigration of the late 1800s, American-Italian cuisine, including classics like spaghetti and meatballs, had taken root in hearts and bellies around the country.
“Pasta is one of Americans’ most-loved foods,” says Barilla Foodservice chef Yury Krasilovsky. “Noodles are a comfort food the world over and tend to become a favorite for people at very young ages.”
Consumer demand for pasta has been steadily on the rise in recent years, according to 2017 data from the Nielsen Company. America is the world’s largest market for pasta, and consumption per person in this country is second only to the food’s homeland, Italy. Including pasta options on menus is a excellent way for restaurants to capitalize on this affinity, catering to customer expectations and increasing profitability.
“There’s a world of opportunity in the array of pasta shapes that are available on the market.”
According to Krasilovsky, pasta is a low-cost, center-of-the-plate ingredient that delivers high value perception for guests. It can also be used as a vehicle for food that would otherwise be discarded as waste: vegetable and meat trimmings can be used for sauce or for presentation. Revenue from the pasta and noodles segment amounts to more than $6.208 billion for 2018, and is expected to grow another 1.5 percent next year, according to data from Statista.
“Pasta is easy to execute, profitable, and it provides an endlessly variable platform for chefs to showcase a brand’s individuality,” Krasilovsky says.
Despite the popularity of classic dishes incorporating marinara sauce and familiar pasta shapes such as spaghetti, penne, and rotini—or perhaps because of it—many operators have found success by incorporating new preparations and surprising ingredients into their pasta offerings.
“There’s a world of opportunity in the array of pasta shapes available on the market,” Krasilovsky says. “There’s a lot of sameness out there in terms of the cuts and types, but just using a more unique shape—pipettes or campanelles instead of elbows in a mac and cheese, for example—can help a restaurant to differentiate itself.”
Key Insight: As interest in authentic, regional Italian cuisine continues to grow, there will be higher consumer demand for additional noodle varieties to appear on restaurant menus and grocery store shelves. Some of the fastest-growing noodles on U.S. menus are: cavatappi, buctini, pappardelle, vermicelli, and orecchiette.
Besides the shape and cut of pastas offered, restaurants can also benefit by offering pastas made from health-conscious ingredients.
According to a 2017 report from Research and Markets, the gluten-free food market is expected to grow more than 11 percent by 2021. With the rise of celiac disease and wheat allergies—roughly 6 percent of the population identifies as gluten-sensitive—consumer demands for gluten-free options are a critical consideration for any menu. But it’s equally important for chefs to recognize that many consumers are not looking for alternatives to a pasta dish. Instead, they want the option to enjoy the same comfort food as other diners without the concerns of a health risk.
Krasilovsky says that some companies have received great feedback from creating new pasta varieties, such as single-ingredient products made from wheat-alternative flours, that respond to customer needs. By offering pastas that everyone can enjoy, regardless of dietary restrictions, restaurants can send a message of inclusivity for all diners, attracting customers and building trust among patrons.
In addition to surprising guests with the kinds of pastas used, Krasilovsky recommends that restaurants consider current trends and incorporate new ingredients to accommodate consumer leanings.
“Lately, we’ve definitely been seeing America’s love for spicy show up in the pasta category,” he says, “from regional dishes that include n’duja, a spicy soft sausage from Calabria, to things like sriracha mac and cheese.”
Other anticipated trends for 2019 include the incorporation of global flavors into pasta dishes that would otherwise be familiar. In a trendspotting report from Datassential earlier this year, millennial diners were found to be twice as likely to choose global or exotic flavors—such as cumin, gochujang, or yellow curry, which can add flair to pasta dishes—compared with the overall population.
“Pasta is being used as a bridge,” Krasilovksy says. “It makes global ingredients and flavors more approachable and easier to order. “Harissa and ras al hanout—North African spice mixtures—might be too exotic in a different dish, but in a pasta context, they’re safe for exploration.”
The term pasta is mentioned on 38% of US restaurant menus.
85% of consumers love or like pasta and it is a popular menu offering with all types of consumers.