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In Struggling Economy, More People Say, “Let Us Eat Pasta!”

January 23, 2009 12:02 PM
by Anne Szustek
Pastas, packaged soups and prepared dinners are making their way back to American dinner tables as consumers turn away from low-carb diets and toward budget-friendly meals.

Recession Spells Doom for Low-Carb Diets

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After years of decline in consumption in the U.S., pasta has made a comeback as a recession-friendly way to fill up.

According to Nielsen statistics cited by the Associated Press, Americans ate 0.4 percent more pasta last year than in 2007, although numbers provided by food industry insiders suggest a greater consumer trend toward the carbohydrate-laden food.

As a result, major pasta manufacturers have seen a 22–42 percent rise in sales from the previous year. New World Pasta CEO Peter Smith told the AP, “I think what happened this past year is with all the inflation running rampant through the stores … It’s like a certain number of people rediscovered pasta.”

While prices for staple foodstuffs—including for wheat, pasta’s main ingredient—have gone up across the board, pasta has an advantage in that it can be served as a side dish or as an inexpensive entrée.

“The average price of a 1-pound box of pasta is $1.20,” reports Food Product Design. “When taking additional ingredients, such as pasta sauce, into consideration, the cost of a pasta meal is still about $3, or just 76 cents per serving.”

Pasta sales had been declining 1 or 2 percent a year, due to the popularity of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Nutritional Approach and The Zone. The former’s status as a weight-loss panacea has already taken a hit, as evidenced by Atkins Nutritionals’ filing for bankruptcy in 2005. As meat prices rise and personal incomes drop, the current recession could deal the final blow to the low-carb craze.

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Related Topic: Recession prompts advance meal planning; consumption of organ meats

Market research firms have noticed a national trend of people preparing food at home to save money. But many have been eating in restaurants for years, leaving their kitchen cabinets devoid of the proper utensils and cookbooks. According to the Associated Press, “sales of cookbooks, inexpensive cookware and the basic foods needed to concoct a meal” are up, while magazines and Web sites devoted to cooking are thriving as new home cooks scramble to stock their kitchen shelves.

Unfortunately, whether you dine in or out, food prices are up. This past Thanksgiving, a pound of peas was 12 cents more than in 2007, and a 16-pound turkey was up by $1.46.

The French are witnessing a rise in the sale of organ meats, also known as triperie or offal. The world financial crisis may make triperie seem more attractive to the consumer, because it tends to cost less than more standard cuts of meat. France’s National Triperie Confederation (CNTF), which has fought to soften the image of innards by marketing them as “tripe products” instead of offal, notes that between September and October 2008, the sale of organ meats rose 16 percent compared with sales from the same time in 2007; meat sales, in general, fell 2.6 percent.

Reference: Guides to food, cooking, Italian cuisine

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