The ultimate versatile comfort food is going nowhere but up.

During the pandemic, diners have gravitated toward comfort foods like never before, and one longtime favorite they continue to turn to is pasta. In fact, pasta has never been more popular: Datassential reports that it is loved or liked by 85 percent of Americans. That number is expected to grow in 2021 for a variety of reasons.

With so much emphasis on off-premise channels this year, chefs and operators can rely on pasta’s performance in takeout or delivery. With consumers now accustomed to off-premise ordering, experts forecast that 2021 will see a continued reliance on pasta as an ideal to-go item.

“Pasta has a scalability, where you can make 20 to 40 pounds of pasta, and it will hold up, and travel really well,” says Keith Brunell, director of food and beverage at Nordstrom Restaurants. “Similarly, if you’re making a dish for a small party that ordered takeout or delivery, you can bet that dish will taste just as good as it does in a restaurant.”

Another reason pasta is expected to grow in 2021 is that it is a versatile ingredient with a solid margin, that can be made by most any cook. As kitchens pare down SKUs—and staff—to make ends meet, it’ll be imperative to have on-trend dishes that are less labor intensive.

“Pasta, and especially dry pasta, is shelf stable,” says Pam Smith, RDN at Shaping America’s Plate, Inc. Smith is a nutritionist with a culinary background who serves as consultant to the foodservice industry. “Pasta is the ultimate versatile, low-labor, and consistent product that chefs can work with.”

There is an endless number of dishes that can be made with pasta, too, Smith says. With consumer data showing a craving for comfort foods and health and wellness, Smith says that pasta can help operators achieve something healthy, yet filling.

“A foundation for health and wellness is what I like to call ‘pasta-plus,’” Smith says. “Diners often avoid certain health foods because they’re afraid that it won’t fill them up. With pasta, you don’t have that issue. So if you can marry it with seafood or vegetables and give pasta a health halo, a diner looking for something healthy but filling, is in luck.”

Brunell estimates that he has cooked over 1 million pounds of pasta during his career, and he says he always uses Barilla’s product when it comes to dry pasta.

“Barilla has such a consistent pasta,” Brunell says. “Having cooked so much pasta in my life, I can guarantee you that whether it’s a piece of angel hair or a piece or rigatoni, Barilla is going to give me the best-performing, highest quality product.”

For more information on how to capture one of the biggest trends of 2021, check out

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