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Published: Wednesday, 1/21/2009

Pasta sales sweeten as economy goes sour

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A press operator inspects spaghetti as it moves along a production line at the American Italian Pasta Co. plant in Excelsior Springs, Mo. American Italian is the largest U.S. manufacturer of dry pasta. U.S. consumers are returning to pasta after several years of declining sales. A press operator inspects spaghetti as it moves along a production line at the American Italian Pasta Co. plant in Excelsior Springs, Mo. American Italian is the largest U.S. manufacturer of dry pasta. U.S. consumers are returning to pasta after several years of declining sales.
CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP Enlarge

KANSAS CITY - 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 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 New World Pasta of Harrisburg, Pa., which makes such brands as Ronzoni, American Beauty, and Creamette, said he was amazed commodity price hikes last year didn't dampen pasta sales they 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."

Mr. 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 Inc., where industry officials say noodle numbers grew even faster.

Varieties of pasta await inspection at a quality-control lab at American Italian. Manufacturers report that pasta sales rose 5 percent to $6.4 billion last year, partly because the industry passed along stiff increases in wheat prices and other costs. But sales by volume also were up, manufacturers say. Varieties of pasta await inspection at a quality-control lab at American Italian. Manufacturers report that pasta sales rose 5 percent to $6.4 billion last year, partly because the industry passed along stiff increases in wheat prices and other costs. But sales by volume also were up, manufacturers say.
CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP Enlarge

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, spokesman for the National Pasta Association.




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