October is National Pasta Month. And we can think of no better time to offer our sympathy to the makers of dried pasta. Because in a world where consumers are constantly changing their preferences, there's not much those poor folks can do to differentiate their products.
Spaghetti looks like spaghetti, no matter who makes it. You can tweak the ingredients, and you still get spaghetti. You can change the ingredients dramatically and make spinach spaghetti or gluten-free spaghetti. But it's still spaghetti. The same is true, of course, of macaroni, which is always a tiny, c-shaped tube. And so it is with penne and linguini and angel hair and on and on.
But pity not the marketers of dried pasta, because there are few foods where marketing has a greater influence. The stats speak for themselves.
First, let's look at Americans' preferences for types of pasta. In 2004, U.S. households reported using spaghetti most often, with a 63.6% of them calling it their pasta of choice, according to information from Packaged Facts based on data from Experian Marketing Services. In 2013, that number had hardly changed at all. Spaghetti was still No. 1, with 63.9% of households still using it more than its pasta-aisle competitors.
Meanwhile, macaroni was No. 2 in 2004 as a favorite with 41% of households. This year it's still in second place, with 39%.
The story of dried pasta brands, however, has been quite different in the U.S. over the same period of time.
Today, the best-selling brand in the U.S. is Barilla, with 32.4% of households saying they use it the most. Store brands as a category occupy second place with a 26.6% choosing them first when shopping for groceries. Mueller's claims third place, with a respectable 12.8% of households calling it their first choice.
And Barilla has come a long way. Back in 2004, the brand was in third place with 18.3%, trailing both store brands (at 20%) and Mueller's (at 18.5%.)
The last decade has seen other large movers among the top 10 leading brands as well.
Buitoni had just 2.1% of the market calling it a first choice in 2004. That has tripled in the years since, and this year Buitoni can boast favoritism in 6.3% of households.
Then, there is the story of San Giorgio, which was the top brand for 5.5% of the market in 2004, but claims loyalty from just 4.6% today. Franco-American lost some ground, too, holding 2.9% of U.S. households' preferences in 2004, and only 1.6% today. American Beauty likewise saw loss in popularity, watching its fanbase shrink from 11.3% to 5.9%.
So who are the top 10 pasta brands in the U.S. as of this year? Take a look below. And keep in mind that there is some overlap among households where more than one brand might be used most often.
Top 10 U.S. Dry Packaged Pasta Brands (by % of households using them most often)
2. Store brands—26.6%
7. American Beauty—5.9%
9. San Giorgio—4.6%
10. No Yolks—3.6%
[Source: Packaged Facts, based on Experian Marketing Services, Simmons NCS Adult Spring Studies 12-Month. Base: Households. Copyright: 2013. Experian Information Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.]
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