Food & Beverage

Pasta demand wanes as health-conscious consumers see it as carb demon

Key Points
  • The gluten-free bandwagon has caught up with pasta.
  • According to Mintel research, the compound annual growth rate for pasta between 2011 and 2015 was flat in the U.S., Canada, France and Australia.
  • In Italy and the U.K., the CAGR for that same period was down 2 percent.
Spaghetti being served at a charity event in Turin, Italy.
Nicolò Campo | Pacific Press | LightRocket | Getty Images

The gluten-free bandwagon has caught up with pasta.

From Italy to the U.S., the love affair with traditional pasta is cooling as health-conscious consumers see it as a carb demon and are looking to other options.

"Across the globe, 'carbophobia' is impacting sales," Mintel said in a report released Thursday.

According to Mintel research, the compound annual growth rate for pasta between 2011 and 2015 was flat in the U.S., Canada, France and Australia, and down 2 percent in Italy and the U.K.

Mintel research shows about one-third of households has at least one person in it that eats gluten-free foods.

"The trend for gluten-free and low carb diets and the vilification of wheat as a contributor to a variety of ailments, including weight gain, have contributed to the flat and declining sales of pasta in many key markets," said Jodie Minotto, a global food and drink analyst at Mintel.

In Italy, retail per capita consumption of pasta fell by 10.6 percent from 2011 to 2016, reaching 15.2 kg (33.5 pounds) in 2016. Mintel said its retail consumption data includes packaged pasta and "meal accompaniment pasta" products but exclude soups as well as frozen and chilled ready meals.

"While Italians still consume the biggest volume of pasta per person globally, they are cutting back on this traditional staple," said Mintel. "Italians say they are limiting the amount of pasta in their diet for health reasons."

Mintel added, "The rising popularity of protein and the resurgence of low-carb diets have made for a challenging environment for pasta, which is being shunned in favor of foods perceived to be healthier or more supportive of weight management efforts."

In the U.S., average pasta consumption is forecast to reach 2.7 kg (nearly 6 pounds) in 2017, down 3.6 percent from 2015. Rice consumption, though, is expected to reach 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) this year, or an increase of 9 percent from 2015 levels.

"Health concerns are at play here, as well, as 41 percent of U.S. consumers perceive rice and grains to be healthier than pasta," Mintel said.

According to the National Pasta Association, the most popular pasta shapes in the U.S. are spaghetti followed by elbows, rotelle, penne and lasagna. The U.S. is the world's second-largest manufacturer of pasta after Italy.

Yet it's not all bad news for pasta makers since Mintel said they have been busy "reformulating the traditional pasta recipe in order to make it more acceptable to modern consumers."

Specifically, big pasta makers looked to new pasta varieties, including gluten-free, organic and whole wheat pasta.

In fact, one in seven new pasta products launched globally in 2016 was gluten-free, up from just 5 percent of those launched back in 2012.

Also, 18 percent of new pasta products introduced globally last year were organic, up from 11 percent in 2012. The report pointed out there's been more whole wheat grain pasta products launched in recent years too.

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