Strong interest in British-made pasta challenges ideas around authenticity in this market being reliant on provenance and points to opportunities for the small players in this space to disrupt the market. Italian pasta stalwart Barilla’s acquisition of a majority stake in London-based fresh pasta expert Pasta Evangelists speaks to the same.

The COVID-19/coronavirus outbreak fuelled a sharp uptick in the sales of pasta, rice and noodles. The lockdowns and restriction to curb the spread of the virus saw a rise in at-home meals and demand for products with a long shelf life and good value meals, driving demand for these starchy foods.

Concerns around health may prove a challenge for the pasta, rice and noodles market, as consumers put a greater focus on healthy eating in the wake of the pandemic. Half (51%) of pasta, rice and noodles eaters and buyers say that the nutritional content of pasta/rice/noodles is important to them, while 38% say they are actively limiting/reducing the amount of carbohydrates they eat.

There are also plenty of opportunities for the pasta, rice and noodles market. In the short term, the pressures on household incomes will fuel evenings in, the interest in replicating restaurant meals a strong opportunity for premium pasta, rice and noodle brands. Interest in rice-based recipes from less familiar cuisines and in new varieties of pasta point to potential for the market to drive ongoing relevance.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the pasta, rice and noodles market

  • Usage of pasta, rice and noodles

  • New launch activity in pasta, rice and noodles and product concepts of interest

  • Behaviours related to pasta, rice and noodles, and attitudes towards them

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January, with a small number of cases in February. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March.

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23 March. It was not until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to re-open, followed by pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers on 4 July, and many beauty businesses on 13 July.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social distancing measures were intensified. Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a full month-long lockdown from 5 November, and Scotland introducing a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions.

Despite these restrictions, however, case numbers continued to increase. All four UK nations tightened restrictions in January 2021, effectively leading to a full UK-wide lockdown. There is no defined end date for the lockdown, although the legislation regarding the English lockdown presented to Parliament extends to 31 March.

The UK’s vaccination programme started on 8 December 2020, and with both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines licenced for use in the UK, the government aims to offer a vaccine to 15 million people by mid-February.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its November 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK GDP will have fallen by 11.3% in 2020, recovering by 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% in 2022. GDP is not expected to return to pre-COVID levels until the fourth quarter of 2022. The central scenario has unemployment peaking at 7.5% in Q2 2021.

The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation in the range of forecasts, however, and this is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q4 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP does not recover until Q3 2024.

The second wave of infections and subsequent lockdowns means that the short-term prospects for the country are consistent with the OBR’s negative scenario, but this needs to be balanced against the fact that the vaccine rollout is ahead of even the OBR’s central scenario. Medium- to long-term, then, we are still basing our forecasts and market analysis on the OBR’s central economic scenario.

Products covered in this Report

This Report examines the UK retail market for pasta, rice and noodles. Mintel’s definition covers products sold through the grocery retail channel and direct to consumers and includes:

  • Pasta – dry, chilled, frozen, canned and pouch formats

  • Rice – dry, ready-to-heat (chilled and ambient) and frozen formats

  • Noodles – dry, ready-to-cook wet ambient, chilled and frozen formats

  • Instant hot snacks – instant dry noodles, pasta and rice snacks, instant ambient microwaveable pasta and rice snacks

Excluded from this Report:

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