KANSAS CITY — Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the pasta industry over the past year was the decision by Ebro Foods S.A. to merge its U.S. rice and pasta companies. The merger, which occurred Jan. 1, created the largest manufacturer and marketer of rice products and the second largest producer and distributor of pasta products in the United States by bringing together Riviana Foods Inc., American Rice, Inc. and New World Pasta Co.
In the 10 years since Madrid, Spain-based Ebro Foods has owned New World Pasta, the company has sought to integrate its vast portfolio to take advantage of synergies to benefit its customers and consumers. The combined companies now have manufacturing facilities in seven U.S. states and in Canada through Catelli Foods Corp., a subsidiary of Riviana Foods. Catelli is the largest pasta manufacturer and distributor in Canada.
By combining operations, Ebro Foods will look to reinvigorate New World Pasta, which, along with several other top dry pasta companies in the United States, has seen sales slide over the past year.
In the 52 weeks ended Feb. 19, dollar sales in the spaghetti/macaroni/pasta (no noodles) category fell 1.6% to $1,911,517,568, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. At New World Pasta, which commands a nearly 18% share of the market in terms of dollar sales, sales fell 4% during the period, to $340,460,160. Some of the company’s brands have performed well over the period, including a 1.3% dollar sales improvement for the company’s top-selling Ronzoni brand and a nearly 1% increase for American Beauty. But many others have not performed as well. According to I.R.I., dollar sales of San Giorgio fell 16%, Ronzoni Healthy Harvest slipped nearly 10%, Creamette fell 6% and Skinner declined almost 5%.
“In North America we are operating in a complicated market with elaborate promotional calendars and high levels of competition,” Ebro said in its annual report released late last month. “It has been a big year for launches, mainly the health and wellness segment, where we had previously had most difficulty. Ancient grains, SuperGreens, gluten-free and organics have made up for some of the market position lost in whole grain pastas. We have invested heavily in our brands to provide them with values that are easily identified by the local consumer and which are capable of tapping into the latest food trends. For example, in American Beauty and Creamette, we have reinforced the quality of American wheat and the local profile of our brands.”
Another pasta company that experienced a decline in sales during the past year is American Italian Pasta Co., Excelsior Springs, Mo. AIPC dollar sales in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 19 totaled $127,419,248, down 5% from the same period a year ago.
Heading the other direction is Barilla America, a division of Parma, Italy-based Barilla Group. Barilla is the largest dry pasta maker in the United States, and in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 19 dollar sales in the spaghetti/macaroni/pasta (no noodles) category totaled $616,984,256, up 1.6% over the previous 52-week period, according to I.R.I.
Pacing the growth at Barilla was the company’s staple Barilla brand, with dollar sales of $561,292,928, up 1.5% from a year ago. Also performing well was the company’s Barilla Pronto product, which recorded sales of $11,887,498 in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 19, up 24% from the same period a year ago. Barilla Pronto is prepared in one pan, with no need to wait for water to boil and no draining required. Consumers are able to cook, then stir occasionally until most of the water is absorbed into the pasta.
Innovation also is at the heart of Barilla’s 3D pasta printer, which uses technology to create custom pasta shapes. In partnership with TNO, the Dutch Research Center (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research), Barilla has worked over the past several years to develop a 3D pasta printer that is able to produce fresh pasta in two minutes using dough prepared with only durum wheat semolina and water.
Describing the technology last May, Fabrizio Cassotta, innovation pasta, ready meals and smart food manager, said, “All you need to do is load the dough cartridges in the machine, and that’s it. It takes only a few minutes: you choose the pasta shape you want, and the data is sent to the printer that materializes ready-to-cook pasta, shaped as cubes, moons, roses or many other shapes. Never seen before pasta shapes made with our favorite ingredients.”
Sales growth and headway on innovation efforts led Barilla to ask the Ames, Iowa, city council for tax breaks that would allow the company to undertake a $16 million expansion of its pasta plant in the city. The plans call for a new building, six new wheat silos and a larger rail yard.