By Gregory Furgala
Let’s start with the bad news: pasta has lost some ground on Canadian menus. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, its rate of operator penetration is down 1.6 per cent for the year, and 0.3 per cent over five years, with item count down 6.7 per cent over the past year and 15.1 per cent over the past five. At the risk of disappointing nonnas everywhere, pasta is on the decline.
There’s more silver lining than dark cloud, though, because pasta’s overall menu penetration is still very high. Technomic reports that 51.4 per cent of operators feature it on their menus, with 84.9 per cent of casual restaurants, 75 per cent of contemporary casual restaurants and 72.1 per cent of fine dining restaurants menuing pasta. It’s even climbing on children’s menus, with operator growth up 9.1 per cent and item growth up 9.2 per cent. Despite the decline, pasta is more or — in this case — slightly less, as popular as ever.
There’s other positive movement too. Grana Padano, which is similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano, grew on menus by 27.8 per cent from Q3 2017 to Q3 2018. In the same period, parsley and butter grew by 13.6 per cent, 7.4 per cent, respectively, while pepper, basil and parsley all remain amongst the top herbs and spices in menued pastas — all necessary for classic, uncomplicated preparations like spaghetti al limone and cacio e pepe, the Roman staple featuring just spaghetti, pepper and cheese. Likewise, cheese, garlic, tomatoes and mushrooms are all ensconced in the top five ingredients in pasta dishes.
Diners aren’t married to the old country, though. From Q3 2017 to Q3 2018, pepperoni and green peppers saw 13.6 per cent and 6.9 per cent in Canadian pasta dishes, respectively, while chives and curry both found their way into the top five herbs and seasonings for pasta. Canadians’ tentative venture into unusual ingredients is to be expected, though; Technomic also reported that 52 per cent are willing to try a new or unique sauce.
The moral of the story: feature the classics, but don’t be afraid to include a new-school pasta or two. There’s no reason to raise the alarm over pasta’s recent decline — it’s still ubiquitous, and Canadians are eating plenty of it. Nonnas, rejoice.