An American Pasta Sauce? That’s No Malarkey

Carol Ortenberg

“We The People of the American Pasta Sauce Company, in order to form a more perfect Plate…” So begins the “constitution” of The American Pasta Sauce Company, a new endeavor from Neal McTighe, the founder and owner of artisanal pasta sauce brand Nello’s.

american redMcTighe launched the patriotic line this past July 4, and has seen instant consumer and retailer attention. The line of organic sauces has three SKU’s: Red (marinara), White (tomato garlic) and Blue (tomato basil) and is sold at Lowes Foods, Central Market and Whole Foods stores in the Southeast.

One point of differentiation is price democratization: American retails at $5.99 while Nello’s ranges between $7.99-$8.99.

“There were stores and demographics where Nello’s could not go,” McTighe said.“Nello’s is viewed in the marketplace as a premium or super premium sauce.” McTighe noted to NOSH. While it was doing well, he added, “what it couldn’t do was compete with Paul Newman, Bertolli and Classico,” more middle-tier sauce lines.

Knowing that he couldn’t change his flagship brand, which already had a loyal following, McTighe went back to the drawing board. “I said ‘what are the key things that it has to be?’” he remembered. “It has to be organic, it has to be kosher, it has to be certified gluten-free, and it has to be able to hit a price point of $5.99.”

american whiteYet that wasn’t enough. To compete in a mature category like pasta sauces, McTighe knew the line had to have a point of differentiation. So he looked around the sauce set and realized there was a common trend. “When you go into the pasta set…I would argue that 80-90 percent of them are very strong, Italian themes — whether it’s Tuscan villages or Italian restaurants.”

What wasn’t in the set was a solid American brand, he said. Coincidentally, McTighe realized that 2016 would also be a banner year for American pride with a summer Olympics and election — the perfect time to launch his new brand.

“American is kinda shocking in the marketplace because it breaks with that tired and weathered cliche,” he noted. “It basically says, ‘this food tradition called jarred pasta sauce is as American as burgers and fries.’”

With that in mind, McTighe designed a sauce that was more geared to the American palate. Nello’s is more “delicate” and is made from whole tomatoes. American is made from tomato concentrate and has more bold, robust flavors. It’s what the typical American might recognize as pasta sauce, but perhaps not an Italian, he believes.

american blue (2) (1)After hitting stores, McTighe found other benefits to the line. Unlike some of his Nello’s line,which is biodynamic, American doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Displays also are easy because patriotic items are readily available and don’t require custom buildouts or marketing collateral. And, most importantly, McTighe realized that stores were already building displays that called for “American” items and looking for unique additions.

That said, the concept is not just malarkey. “I wanted the product to speak not just to an American brand but also American values,” said McTighe. The line uses domestic tomatoes and is produced in the United States (unlike many other brands which are made in Italy).

While the brand is currently sold mostly in the South, McTighe sees it easily translating around the country. “The concept of America makes it local anywhere,” he said. “I don’t care where you are, you’re going to feel an affinity to the red, white and blue.”

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