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THE ITALIAN FOOD INDUSTRY IS BETTING ON EXPORTS
Pasta is not the only item driving the sector which has always occupied a top position in Italian economic life. Indeed, the food industry is the jewel in the crown for Italy’s export drive, with overseas sales rising by +4.45% in 2010: a year which has proved so difficult for the world’s economy. With a turnover of 119 billion Euros, a manufacturing base of 32,400 companies and a work-force of 400,000, the sector has registered more than 20 billion Euros in exports over the last year.
The main reasons for this success can be found in the ability of national producers to capture foreign markets. Daniele Rossi, Director of the Italian food federation, “Federalimentare” offered an explanation: “We are working very hard to confirm the place of Italian production in the important overseas markets. The task force we have deployed is giving priority attention to the four regions of major interest: Canada-America, Australia, Brazil and China-Argentina.”
A commercial assessment of the size of the Australian market, able to absorb double the sales of China with a population 70 times smaller, determined the decision to choose this country as a logistical hub for commerce with the East. In Canada, “Federalimentare” is trying to develop a suitable answer to the phenomenon which undermines Italy’s competitiveness: an element known as “Italian sounding”. This refers to the presence on the market of similar products, labelled with names which mimic the best Italian manufacturers, and principally made by Italians who have settled abroad.
In relation to the mission, Asia continues to represent one of the major export markets. However, the protectionist restrictions imposed by local officialdom continue to be an obstacle and are not the only challenge, according to Daniele Rossi: “Our awareness that we are dealing with a very different context, where Italian eating habits bear no relationship to the local customs, is driving our effort to find solutions that will make our products acceptable to those markets. For their part, they must seek to lower both the tariff and non-tariff barriers, relax the health restrictions, and simplify the certification and procedures in general. These are often too burdensome, disjointed and complex.”
The core business of the Italian food industry is directed towards the search for product quality and this, even for a country with a long gastronomic tradition, remains one of its distinctive capacities, distinguishing it from the mass production models established in other countries. The focus on a high quality can explain the prevalence in Italy of small to medium-sized production and processing companies: according to the “Federalimentare” monitoring team, at the end of 2009 businesses with less than ten workers made up 80% of the entire manufacturing base. In the end, however, Italy’s dedication to quality has to be squared up with those countries with high density populations, where the demand is for sustained levels of high production.
The major markets of South America, China and India have focused their efforts above all on overcoming scale limitations. And the whole sector is also trying to establish connections with those countries which have emerged from the economic crisis in a more compromised position. As Daniele Rossi pointed out: “Russia is an example here: the effects of the crisis are creating more than a little difficulty in penetrating and consolidating this market. Nevertheless, we have a presence there, and we are constantly monitoring the progress of the economy, as we do in the rest of the world. Ours is a game which has to be played predominantly in an international context.”