Here at Barilla, we spend a good deal of time watching the menu and consumers to stay on top of what’s happening with pasta. Overall, pasta on the menu is up 4% since 2015, showing just how durable pasta’s appeal is with consumers and operators alike. While Italian cuisine is definitely a driver of many of those menu offerings, there are a couple of specific bright spots we thought we’d delve into here.
First, the #1 menu item for pasta in the US is mac and cheese, and it’s still growing—up 20% since 2015! Operators across the spectrum are innovating with mac & cheese, from a “Baja” mac with avocados and pico de gallo at Panera Bread to a bacon jalapeño version at Noodles & Co. At casual and fine dining, the trend is to lean way into the indulgence factor, with luxury ingredients like lobster, truffles, and crab in the mix.
Barilla Insight: The popularity of mac and cheese isn’t going anywhere, but the platform is ripe for some (slightly) more healthy innovation. Blending pureed veggies into the sauce, using flavorful roasted or grilled veggies as toppings, and judicious use of animal proteins as garnishes can all make incremental improvements to this iconic American dish. The taste and indulgence appeal can remain and be a little better for people and the planet. More tips for mac & cheese innovation from Chef Yury here!
The second growth area is vegetarian pasta offerings, up 34% since 2015. As more operators look to expand their appeal to flexitarians and other on the “plant-forward” spectrum, pasta is a natural place to build some operationally easy, guest-satisfying menu items. Kale in pasta dishes is up over 400%! McCormick & Schmick’s is offering a Salmon Pesto Rigatoni with Asparagus and Artichokes; which while not vegetarian, it leverages the “superfood” power of salmon.
Barilla Insight: Many authentic Italian pasta dishes are vegetarian or use animal proteins as garnishes rather than the main feature. Regional Italian cuisine’s seasonal nature lends itself well to vegetarian dishes and offers rich storytelling to help sell these dishes to all guests, not just the vegetarians!