US sales of Italian foods, such as pizza and pasta, are growing as consumers increasingly turn to Italian frozen and chilled foods.

According to the report 'Italian Foods in the US' by Packaged Facts, the sector is expected to grow from nearly US$12bn in 2006 to $13.8bn by 2011.

Recent market growth has been driven by the pizza and pizza products category, accounting for more than 45% of Italian food retail sales. Pizza sales totalled $5.3bn in 2006, a 2% increase over 2005's levels.

Pasta and pasta source each account for just over 21% of the market.

Meanwhile the smallest category, Italian cheese, has seen considerable gains over the past two years, Packaged Facts said.

Growth in the category has been driven by the association between health and the Mediterranean diet, with Italian food manufacturers consistently positioning the health and wellness benefits of their products. Meanwhile, when buying Italian consumers are also seeking convenience and authenticity, Packaged Facts said.

However, the report found that increased household penetration is not driving growth of the category.

"Our research shows that more households aren't consuming Italian foods. Market growth is coming from Italian food lovers eating increased quantities of diverse Italian fare," Tatjana Meerman, the managing editor of Packaged Facts, noted. "Specialty Italian foods such as meats, breads, and condiments are making the move into the US market and augmenting the current up-scaling of today's gourmet Italian foods."