A number of problems have afflicted American Italian Pasta (AIP) in 2004, from shipment delays to restructuring costs, but the most worrying issue for the US pasta industry is the company's statement that falling sales were due to "continued and accelerated consumption declines".
AIP cited independent figures which showed that on average Americans had eaten four to five per cent less pasta in the three months up to 4 October, and the decline was worse, at around seven per cent, in the last four weeks of this period.
Sue Perram, market analyst at US-based Avondale Partners, said the pasta industry was unlikely to recover any lost ground in the near future and that a main problem was a growing low-carb mindset making people biased against higher carb foods like pasta.
"Even though someone might not be following a low-carb diet they may still be in a low-carb mindset. For example, they may choose not to have a bowl of pasta in the evening because they are watching their carbs," said Perram.
Another analyst, James McCoy, from market researchers Mintel, painted a similar picture. He recently told BakeryAndSnacks.com that there was good potential for low-carb foods to integrate themsleves into the mainstream by becoming part of a balanced everyday diet.
Even though Morgan Stanley figures show low-carb diets in the US declined by two per cent in first half of 2004, "low-carb may occupy a position similar to Diet Coke in allowing consumers to feel better about cheating occasionally," said McCoy, adding that producers of higher carb foods could take advantage of this with low-carb alternatives.
The trouble for the US pasta industry is that the low-carb market has already become saturated and there is not enough space for everyone to stay - one of the reasons why AIP's low-carb pasta sales fell well short of its estimates.
Perram said: "People will still count carbs but the momentum we have seen is unsustainable. AIP is the market leader in the dried pasta category and will continue to offer at least one low-carb product, but only a few low-carb pasta products will be kept across the market and it is up to consumers to decide who stays."
She said competition would be fierce and that pasta companies looking to progress in the low-carb market would be better focusing on supplying private label goods.