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While the lockdown in Britain continues, consumers are finding themselves cooking at home more than ever before. With many missing their favourite dining-out options, from Italian classics to an Indian, Thai or even Japanese curry, the spotlight is now firmly set on the ready-made sauces market. While some shoppers are relishing the opportunity to slow-cook ragus and create curry pastes and spice mixes from scratch thanks to their extended time at home, that’s not the case for all; indeed, even seasoned home cooks appreciate a well-made shortcut to help them enjoy their favourite dishes at home.
While shoppers are unable to travel to far flung destinations to experience the authentic sights, sounds and tastes from around the world they’re opting to recreate these flavours at home - travel via their kitchen, if you will. Therefore, it makes sense to stock a range of international options. It could be that Mexican food didn’t quite take off when you tried it in 2019, but with the altered situation that we all find ourselves in in 2020, and the hunger for travel not satisfied physically, it could well be worth another try. We rate Capsicana for their bold, vibrant range of latin american cooking sauces, sides and seasonings.
Many restaurants are now offering takeaways, but for shoppers who aren’t confident in consuming food and drink cooked by other hands there’s a wide range of options available. Nikki Castley, buyer at Cress Co, has found that Indian dishes are doing particularly well for them: “Curry is extremely popular and generally features on most restaurant menus or is the takeaway of choice! So it’s no surprise that curry is also favoured by home cooks looking to enjoy restaurant quality curry from the comfort of their own home, especially now more than ever!” As ever, it’s important to cater to free-from customers, and thankfully, “The Curry Sauce Co, Punjaban and Previn’s feature regularly on our customers’ orders, both Curry Sauce Co & Punjaban are gluten-free so cater for those with additional dietary requirements.”
Early on in the lockdown, headlines were shouting about the panic buying of pasta; according to Kantar, sales were up 55% YOY. No surprises there, as gourmands and beginner cooks alike can appreciate its versatility and ease of use. Sally Assinder, marketing manager at Pasta Garofalo is an expert in the options available, and urges independent retailers to be experimental when it comes to curating their range of pasta shapes. “It is estimated there are over 350 durum wheat pasta shapes to pick from, all made from the same two ingredients,” she explains. “How then, do you choose shapes to ensure you have a pasta range that works well for your customers?
“Thinking like an Italian and dividing the shapes into shortcuts, long cuts, soup cuts and special cuts, the task becomes more manageable and shapes can be chosen in each area to create choice and interest.” As a basis for your range, “It would be wise to stock the nation’s favourites,” she says. “For short cuts it is Fusilli, long cuts Spaghetti and special cuts Lasagne sheets.
“Specific shapes for the range can then be built up in each area,” Sally advises. “For short cuts there are other popular shapes such as Farfalle as well as the more unusual like Radiatori. In long cuts Linguine is always popular, whereas Bucatini, a less well-known shape, adds interest for customers. Special shapes vary greatly and include both short and long cuts like Orecchiette and Spaghetti Alla Chitarra. Lumachine and Farfalline are both soup cuts and give interest and value to a pasta range; the size of these shapes makes them perfect for babies as well as soup.”
Once your selection of dry pasta is in order, it’s time to consider what your customers will be serving it with. “Pasta with sauce remains a firm favourite dish in the UK,” explains Sally, “but not many of us have the time to source all the ingredients to make a pesto or to reduce tomatoes for a rich full flavoured sauce. It is by far the norm now to keep jars of pesto and pasta sauces in the cupboard for a ‘quick’ and satisfying pasta dish.”
As with further flung destinations, travel and familiarity with flavours from Italy play a big part in its popularity with UK shoppers. “Consumers travel to Italy and eat at Italian restaurants to taste fresh pasta sauces made with tomatoes slowly reduced for an intense flavour, or Pesto Alla Genovese made to the original recipe with extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts and Parmigiano Reggiano,” says Sally. Naturally, “they also want the jar in their cupboard to deliver these fresh and authentic flavours, just as they have experienced them. There are jars that can deliver this and jars that fall short. A quick look at the ingredients on the side of some pesto and you’ll find olive oil substituted with sunflower oil, or the addition of cashew flour, ingredients not found in the original recipe.
As independent retailers focused on quality and the very best flavour, it’s important that Speciality Food readers do their homework and seek out the finest options available. “As pesto and pasta sauces are staple food items in most kitchen cupboards, it’s essential for the fine food sector to search out the brands and products that use premium ingredients,” says Sally. “So take a read of the ingredients list. Question the variety and source of the tomatoes in a pasta sauce, and ask yourself: is a pesto that uses sunflower oil instead of olive oil and contains no Parmigiano Reggiano of real quality?”
By keeping a close eye on the changing trends around international foods, consumer needs around convenience and ease of use, and a focus on maintaining a point of difference from supermarkets in terms of quality and range, independent fine food retailers can make the most of the evolving market during this difficult time.
Image credit: Garofalo
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