Power-Pasta Spot Carbone Is Bringing Its Sauce to Supermarkets

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Major Food Group, best known for hosting power brokers at its Carbone Italian restaurants in New York and Miami, is bringing its pasta sauces to the masses. This is the company’s first entry in the world of consumer packaged goods.

Starting today, Carbone Fine Foods will offer three of its notable sauces—Marinara, Arrabbiata, and Tomato Basil—on its website and on Amazon.com. The sauces will also roll out at Stop & Shop supermarkets in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

The product is the brainchild of Major Food Group founders Jeff Zalaznick and chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi. Zalaznick says the sauce has been in the works since November 2019, well before the pandemic turned restaurateurs into grocers. “We wanted to share the flavors of Carbone with a wider audience.”

In a sign of its ambitions for the product, the team has hired Eric Skae as chief executive officer. Skae is the former CEO of Rao’s Specialty Foods Group, Inc., which produces one of the best and most popular pasta sauces on the market. 

The team attributes the quality of its preservative-free sauce to employing the same ingredients as at the restaurants, including ripe southern Italian tomatoes, fresh basil, and oregano, and crafting it in small batches. (A sample of the product was not available for a comparative tasting at the time of this writing.)

Carbone products retail for $9 for a 24 oz. jar. That puts it in the premium sauce market, which has shown growth during the pandemic. The share for Rao’s and other high-priced pasta sauces grew to more than 5.2% in the pasta sauce category during the 12-week period that ended Oct. 4, 2020, compared to the same time period a year earlier, according to research firm IRI.

The study noted the increased interest in elevating the experience of dining at home. A comparably sized jar of Rao’s sauce retails for around $9.50; one from Prego goes for about $2.

Power-Pasta Spot Carbone Is Bringing Its Sauce to Supermarkets

“Overall, sales for pasta and pasta sauce grew significantly this year as people sought out shelf-stable pantry items,” said Skae via email. He believes that because shoppers are going out to eat less than they used to, they’re willing to invest in higher-end products for meals at home. “Why would people pay $9 for sauce? While not cheap, you’re saving yourself a lot of time and getting to the end of the recipe much faster.”

The sauce’s label will be familiar to anyone who has picked up the hefty menu at Carbone. It features a  black-and-white illustration of the front of the restaurant and includes the three Major Food Group principles. (The Rao’s label also features an image of its restaurant’s entrance.)

Skae said there are no immediate plans to go head-to-head with the obvious competitor. “Rao’s took 29 years to grow and get to where they are today. It’s an established brand and of course, we aspire to be like them.”

Skae oversaw the sale of Rao’s Specialty Food Group sale to Sovos Brands in 2017 for an undisclosed amount. Sovos, whose brands include Noosa yogurt, is reported to be in talks for a sale or initial public offering. Its 2020 revenue was about $800 million.

Carbone Fine Foods currently has a fourth pasta sauce in development: roasted garlic, a sauce Rao’s also produces. “We’re developing others as well,” says Skae.

One that’s not on the table thus far: a consumer packaged version of Carbone’s famed spicy vodka sauce. “Maybe one day,” says Zalaznick, sounding as if you’ll have to get a table at one of the restaurants to taste it anytime soon.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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