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Spiralling production cost hits Italian pasta bowls

Dec 07, 2007 09:41 PM IST India India

Rome: For most Italians, it is not "Give us this day our daily bread". Their staple is another wheat-based product — pasta. But strong demand and growing export market have sent the price of wheat and cereals skyrocketing.

These are not easy days for pasta makers in Italy. The average price of durum wheat, an essential ingredient to produce one of Italy's most loved staples, has gone up by 60 per cent in the last five months.

This means that for pasta producers like Massimiliano Giovannotti, a third generation pasta-maker, production costs have gone up as well.

Giovannotti says that pasta-making is not a business where you can cut production cost by using lesser amount of ingredients.

“Making pasta is like making a small object in ceramics" he says.

Analysts say the skyrocketing price of wheat and other grains is generated by stronger than usual pasta demand in the world markets. Bad weather conditions and are other environmental concerns are also partly to blame.

Durum wheat is increasingly sold to produce bio-fuel. Pasta producers say the price of raw materials, like durum wheat, is more than half of their costs. This leaves them with no choice but to charge more.

Pasta producers say farmers who grow wheat and cereals are also to blame.

President Italian Pasta Makers, Mario Rummo, says, “There is a problem of speculation also because you can easily understand that farmers, and not only farmers, love to speculate on this and make more profits. In fact, hedge funds are starting to work on cereals also."

The price hike hits the consumers in the wallet and the pasta bowl. The cost of Italy's best known food is up almost eight per cent since May. But high prices do not mean fewer customers in Italy, at least when it comes to pasta.

A housewife Marina says, "Yes I noticed the price has gone up but if I don't eat pasta I don't feel like I have had a full meal. I will skip the second course or the side dish if I have to."

500 grams or just over a pound of pasta typically feeds a family of four and in Italy that still costs 50 per cent less than an espresso.