Trending Now: Pasta on the Menu


A recent trend report on the pasta category from Mintel, commissioned by Barilla, identifies three major themes on menus across the country: Authentic, Regional Mediterranean; Refined Comfort Food; and Small Steps to Better Health.  In this issue, we’ll look at these broad categories to see where they’re coming from, and where they might be headed next.


Especially for higher-income households, Italy is a favorite vacation destination, largely for its culinary delights. In the past 5 years, these households are four times as likely to have gone to Italy than average. Since the same consumers are also already more likely to order Italian cuisine, their intimate familiarity with a broader scope of Italian regional cuisine heightens the need to provide more authenticity to the plate.

Barilla Insight: Using a few key specialty ingredients like meats and cheeses can establish authenticity, but at a price. Pairing these items on food-cost-friendly pasta dishes can give you the credit without the expense.

Where we’re seeing it:

Penne San Remo (Buca di Beppo): Tender chicken breast, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and peas tossed with penne pasta in a white wine cream sauce.

Chicken Pesto Genovese (Maggiano’s): Spaghetti, green beans, red potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and olive tapenade.

Malloreddus al Ragu di Cinghiale (Arcodoro Pomodoro):  Traditional Sardinian teardrop pasta served with wild boar ragu.


When asked to define “comfort food,” consumers are drawn to those items that satisfy and feel good consuming. But comfort foods have been hot for a long time, and consumers are looking for updates and improvements to make their favorites more interesting. Pasta consistently ranks near the top of the comfort food list, and is easily and cost-effectively “upscaled.”

 Barilla Insight: Pasta is in an interesting position as both an “ethnic” food and a comfort food. As an approachable platform for flavor, global cuisines and virtually every protein (including vegetarian) pasta items can play a key role in differentiating a concept and demonstrating value.

Where we’re seeing it:

You need look no further than the ubiquitous Mac and Cheese to see this trend in action, from Lobster Mac’n Cheese at Andy Husbands’ Tremont 647 in Boston to Fast Casual operator Noodles & Company’s “Truffle Mac.” MacDaddy’s Macaroni and Cheese Bar is based entirely on variations on the theme of Mac and Cheese, from breakfast to dinner.


Consumers will always wrestle with the challenge of eating healthy when dining out. The fact that 77% of consumers “order what they crave” and 64% are “interested in seeing more healthy options” illustrates this issue. Consumers want it all – healthier choices, without sacrificing the experience they expect when dining out. So what’s a restaurant operator to do? Using healthier descriptors, using ingredients and techniques that subtly communicate a healthier dish – like whole grains, grilling, or emphasizing vegetables – can help consumers identify and choose healthier items.

Barilla Insight: Whole grain is one of the “better-for-you” concepts that consumers have responded to best. It’s simple and signifies healthy without the negative associations of “low-fat” or “low-calorie.” Using whole grain pasta as a standard item or as a substitution can have remarkable impact on how your operation is perceived when it comes to healthy options.

 Where we’re seeing it:

Fettuccine Integrali al Pollo (Arcodoro Pomodoro): Whole wheat fettuccine with grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and tomato sauce.

Penne Mediterranean (Bravo!): Spinach, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, olive oil and Feta cheese, tossed with Barilla Protein+™ multi grain pasta.

Shrimp MultiGrano Pasta Bowl (The Italian Pie, New Orleans): Barilla Whole Grain Penne with shrimp, bell peppers, green onions and roasted garlic in a light cream sauce, all served in a unique “bowl” of baked multigrain pizza dough.