Paris (AFP)

Coquillettes for everyone! Faced with the rush on pasta caused by the anxiety linked to the epidemic of the new coronavirus, manufacturers had to adapt to ensure the supply of their customers, even if it meant sacrificing diversity.

The images of empty shelves around the world have toured social networks: each time, almost a single package of pasta. The desire to stockpile to counter any containment measure has spiked sales.

"We are 90% increase in our sales over three weeks and 100% over the last few days," said AFP for the Panzani group, Xavier Riescher, president of the group and of the union of industrial pasta manufacturers of Frances (Sifpaf).

As a result, the group's factories, which do not usually operate on weekends or at night, have been producing continuously for several weeks.

"We work seven days a week, 24 hours a day, there is an exceptional mobilization of French workers," said the CEO of the French number one.

The same battle took place around the Italian production lines of La Molisana, the fourth producer in Italy.

"Since the beginning of February, in terms of production, we have been at + 50% in Italy," said Michel Liquidato, sales manager for France for the high-end brand. The unique Campo Basso plant, north of Naples, has even increased supplies from countries like Hungary and Romania by 150%, he said.

But the extension of the hours is not enough to meet the demand, according to Mr. Riescher, according to whom the industry has concentrated on the simplest forms of pasta and has temporarily mourned the most tarabiscot noodles.

"When you make a farfalle, it takes you twice as long as to make a coquillette. Because it is complex, the dough must be pinched again," he adds.

Coquillettes, but also spaghetti, macaroni, penne: the industry focuses on a dozen simple formats, in order to limit production changes.

"It's true for Panzani, for Barilla, Garofalo, which is very high-end. We focus on what we manage to produce," says Mr. Riescher.

Another thing that customers will no longer see on the shelves: lots of several packages on promotion, in order to simplify and speed up packaging.

- No stock shortage -

Ditto for rice, according to Mr. Riescher: the Panzani group's brand, Winged Bull, has seen its sales increase by 70% in recent weeks.

Whether for pasta, rice, but also couscous, whose sales have also doubled, Mr. Riescher assures him, there will be no break.

"There is always plenty of stocks. All the factories in France continue to produce, I can speak for the whole of the union. In Italy too. There are some which are a little in difficulty in the confinement zones in the northern Italy, but for now, factories continue to produce, "he said.

"Despite this difficult context, none of our production sites are currently subject to containment measures," the Barilla group confirmed to AFP.

One of its rivals, the Abruzzo company De Cecco, recently indicated that it was continuing production. The family-owned company has donated ten respirators to health officials in the area, according to reports in the local press.

Some players still have to make choices.

"It was necessary to serve in priority the Italian market and the countries already customers for a few years, whereas in France one hardly starts", deplores Mr. Liquidato, according to which La Molisana had to give up at least temporarily some orders in France .

Another concern, for some manufacturers, if sales continue to soar in the coming months: find themselves short of durum wheat, raw material of pasta.

"We do not anticipate a stock shortage for the coming weeks, and are vigilant that logistical flows are maintained to supply our customers," nonetheless assures AFP Axéréal, one of the main cooperatives to supply shellfish manufacturers like butterflies.

© 2020 AFP