A leader, they say, improves the performance of those around him or her. Grocers say pasta has the same trait; thus cross-merchandising of pasta has become a common practice.
Over the years, the number of food items consumers use to complement pasta has perpetually expanded, making cross-merchandising
more extravagant than ever. With pasta's continued growth in popularity, effective cross-merchandising of the category has become an important piece of the merchandising puzzle for supermarkets.
"It does a lot for the whole store as far as the sales," said Rich Ehrhart, a buyer-merchandiser with the York, Pa., division of Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City. "You can do so much with it." Pasta alone accounted for more than $1 billion in sales -- a 2% increase -- for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 28, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.
The National Pasta Association, Arlington, Va., reports that from 1984 to 1993, the number of times Americans ate pasta within a typical two-week period increased 24%.
With the pasta category exhibiting such healthy growth, retailers have no plans to curtail their cross-merchandising efforts. Indeed, many are striving to bump up their cross-merchandising by including the store's perimeter departments.
According to Russell Sewell, pasta buyer at Laurel Grocery Co., London, Ky., the frozen food and bakery departments tie in well with pasta sales because they stock garlic and French bread.
Vern Buford, director of grocery merchandising and buying at Rice Food Markets, Houston, cross-merchandises his pasta with a number of other categories: "Pasta sauce and your Parmesan cheese, French bread and, in some cases, if you live in the Southwest, jalapeno peppers."
Some retailers told SN they place pasta and complementary items together in the same ad. Others take a more aggressive stance to strengthen impulse sales.
"[We] take an endcap and build pasta and sauce on it in a horseshoe and then, in the middle, put a bunker with sausage or ground beef," said Dave Renaldi, director of merchandising at Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind. Martin's has also successfully merchandised wine with its pasta displays.
With summer approaching, the traditional spaghetti, tomato sauce and cheese combination may be eclipsed at the register by pasta salad ingredients. "Your rotinis and twists," said Ehrhart of Fleming. "You use those more in the summer. Everybody makes pasta salad."
"We estimate about 82% of our purchases are bought on impulse," said Gary Lauerman, marketing director with the Hershey Pasta Group, Hershey, Pa. "It's an intensely displayed and featured category, and consumers will buy [it], even though it may not be on their shopping list." Most of Hershey's impulse sales are limited to spaghetti and other familiar shapes, according to Lauerman. For most consumers, Lauerman said, newer shapes, such as bow ties, are usually deliberate purchases made with a specific recipe in mind.
Where cross-merchandising helps drive sales of complementary products, price is what drives pasta sales, according to Brian Harger, buyer-merchandiser at Bozzuto's, a wholesaler based in Cheshire, Conn.
"They plan it when they go through their shopping list every week, but I think they shop based upon price," he said.
Tom Yarrow, category manager of grocery at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., agreed, noting that his company regularly runs buy-one-get-one-free sales on pasta.
Most retailers told SN they rotate different pasta brands for promotion each week. This strategy, albeit effective in terms of volume, does not beget brand loyalty from consumers -- a habit manufacturers like Barilla America, Norwalk, Conn., wish to change.
"If you ask a consumer if there is a better pasta," said Gianluigi Zenti, Barilla's managing director, "they say, 'No, I just buy whatever's on deal this week.' "
What's on display -- in both pasta and complementary products -- can vary by region and by store.
"We put in a whole line of flavored," said Martin's Renaldi. "But even as expensive as it is, it's doing quite well."
In other markets, retailers are still skeptical about carrying upscale or specialty pastas. Rice is only stocking limited amounts of flavored pastas because most "are too specialized for the taste of most of the Southwest people," Buford said. Tom Hughes, head buyer at Byrd Food Stores, Burlington, N.C., is adding rigatoni and shells, but has passed on flavored pasta. "No flavors or different ethnicities -- not in eastern North Carolina."
Byron Maze, pasta buyer at Associated Wholesalers, Robesonia, Pa., said his marketing area has a large Polish-American population. Accordingly, he said, Associated stocks Haluski and Kluski noodles.
Consumers' pasta purchases, according to Matt Nitzberg, marketing director for pasta at Borden Italian Foods, Columbus, Ohio, are also often influenced by restaurants.
"Most retailers are adding what we consider emerging shapes that are not top sellers today, but they're providing the growth in the category as consumers discover them on restaurant menus." The popularity of certain shapes can depend on the season as well.
"We've done some business in holiday cuts, such as for the Fourth of July; they have stars and flags," said Maze of Associated Wholesalers. "But that's nowhere near the majority of the business."
Laurel's Sewell recommends "the shapes and shells and so forth for salad season and the recipes that go along with that."