FMI Connect

For a majority of us, an “authentic” Italian meal includes a box of pasta, whatever sauce we are in the mood for and Parmesan cheese, which most likely originated in Wisconsin. What most people – myself included – don’t know is that various types of pasta work best and taste best with certain sauce combinations. For example, penne pairs perfectly with a classic pasta sauce made with young and “sweet” or mild Gorgonzola cheese from Lombardy, Italy.

But where do you get those ingredients? And, didn’t the cost of my dinner just jump from around $3 to how much? 

We buy “Italian-sounding” products, which are imitations that sound or look Italian, because they are easier to find and cheaper than authentic Italian products. 

The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) was excited to announce Tuesday morning at FMI Connect that it’s working to change all that. The agency realized it could no longer complain about Italian-sounding products if there are no authentic Italian products on U.S. shelves. 

So, Italy’s vice minister of economic development, Carlo Calenda, says his government will invest $45 million in the first year of its “Made in Italy” campaign beginning in October. “We are investing money to support original Italian products,” Calenda says. “We need to explain what’s real, why there is value in an Italian diet and these products, and that starts today.” 

Maximum Impact

As the first nation to ever be named “Host Country” at FMI Connect, ITA is using these three days in Chicago to showcase and introduce more than 50 authentic Italian food and beverage manufacturers to retailers representing every major U.S. market. “We are inviting American companies and delegates to visit Italy to tour our factories and recharge the landscape,” says Roberto Luongo, CEO of the Italian Trade Agency.

This has to be sparking excitement among small- to medium-sized businesses that have never been able to overcome the logistics of exporting to the United States The ITA says its country’s food and beverage manufacturers’ biggest challenges have been logistics and getting in touch with U.S. retailers.  

The “Made in Italy” campaign will begin this year with in-store promotions of authentic Italian products at HEB, Mariano’s and Price Chopper in New York, Illinois, Texas and California to gain maximum impact. The promotions will be held in 300 HEB and 34 Mariano’s locations for a two-week period, and in 135 Price Chopper locations for three weeks. 

“Made in Italy” is focused on three core areas: raising awareness for the issue, building a reputation for “Made in Italy” and creating relevance within the marketplace. The goal is to help U.S. consumers recognize the value associated with true Italian products, including distinguishing characteristics, traditions, recipes and customs. 

Italian exports to the United States amounted to $4.28 billion and Italian exports were up 6.2 percent in 2013. Italy is the seventh-largest foreign supplier to the United States and was the country’s first international supplier of wine, extra virgin olive oil, cheese, pasta and mineral water.

“This has been a positive evolution for Italy; however, the distribution of authentic Italian products is still limited through U.S. mass retail channels,” Luongo says. “We are determined to introduce the best of quality products available in these markets, exported from Italy and representing tradition that can be tasted.” 

Yes, It’s A Healthy Diet

I love a good “Italian sounding” pasta dish, but am tired of constantly hearing people tell me it has too many carbohydrates and not to eat it often. One of the ITA’s biggest challenges will be convincing U.S. consumers of the health benefits of an Italian diet. 

The agency says that dried pasta, when cooked properly, remains a whole grain throughout the cooking process and retains all of its nutritional virtues. One hundred grams or a quarter of a one-pound package contains: 360 calories, 12 percent protein, 73 percent complex carbohydrates and 1.5 grams of fat.

“The perception in Europe is that an Italian diet is good and healthy, but not here. We are missing something in communication, so this campaign will be more educational than advertising,” Calenda says. “We are charged with explaining why something made in Italy is different from other areas. We will win the challenge of quality.” 

I personally am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead with Italy sharing its recipes, traditions and customs. Welcome, Italy! 

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