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Barilla has a fresh recipe for fast success in urban markets

2014-11-25 10:08 China Daily Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Cooking Italian pasta in just five minutes at home is the new approach that Barilla Group, a 137-year-old Italian food producer, is taking to attract young urban Chinese who have a taste for Western cuisine.

On Monday, the company launched its latest innovative product known as Pasta Pronto, which is designed specifically for China market, after two years of market research. The product, containing pasta and a bag of sauce, is aimed at delivering "great-tasting, authentic, convenient" Italian meal to the modern, busy Chinese consumers, according to Barilla.

Paolo Barilla, deputy chairman of Barilla Group, said the company looked at China for several years and accumulated a deeper understanding of Chinese consumers.

The company has sold its products through dealers for more than a decade and only set up its own operations in China last year. Barilla has grown 30 percent annually in terms of revenue in the country and is expected to continue that pace of growth, he said.

Production capacity was up 4 percent in 2013, with revenue of 3.2 billion euros ($3.96 billion).

But only 5.2 percent of its business is in Asia and Africa, with 79.3 percent in Europe and 15.5 percent in the Americas.

Barilla said the goal is to grow its business in Asia to the same size of that in Europe, with China having an important role.

Bian Jiang, deputy director of the China Cuisine Association, said that the Italian pasta that is sold in China has become "softer" in recent years, much like the tender noodles that feature in domestic cooking. Pasta sauces are very popular among Chinese consumers, said Bian.

Easy-to-cook methods will make this Western dish more accessible and better accepted in the market, he said. Chinese consumers, who have very diverse tastes, are ready to put Western food on their tables at home and in restaurants, he said.

Ben Cavender, principal at the China Market Research Group, said the market is progressing to the point where products such as Pasta Pronto will become very attractive to Chinese shoppers.

Because lifestyles are changing and younger consumers are gaining more experience with international cuisine, there is increasing demand for easy-to-prepare foreign food, he said.

White-collar workers are becoming more interested in cooking for themselves, and many do not have parents around to cook for them, so they are looking for easy solutions, said Cavender.

The challenge is that while consumers have more awareness of Italian food, they may not be familiar enough with it to buy with a high degree of frequency, or understand how to choose Barilla over other brands, so there will need to be some product education, he said.

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