Italian agri-food export: opportunities to be grasped in 2021

The opportunities to be seized for Italian agri-food exports in 2021, despite the pandemic, according to Anna Prandoni, journalist and gastronomy expert. An in-depth study in collaboration with Linkiesta.


Made in Italy food: a new beginning

Food is one of Italy’s first riches. It is by no means a new slogan, but it is increasingly apt, as emphasised by journalist and gastronomy expert Anna Prandoni in her reflection on the world of food for Linkiesta Forecast. Likewise, the best-performing sector is far from new: exports.

In Italy, the sector stands at 538 billion euro, almost a quarter of its GDP, and includes the extended agri-food chain, from the fields to the shelves and restaurants. As regards agri-food exports, the sector in Italy has reached 43 billion euro and the trend is constantly growing. We mainly export to Germany, France, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, however Italian food is in demand everywhere, and is synonymous with quality

Germany and France are the first buyers for almost all products, the United States love wines, mineral waters and oils, Spain our fresh fish. The United Kingdom ranks second for processed and preserved fruit and vegetables and ice cream, Austria is in third place for cereals and rice.

The top selling Italian food products abroad

By far, the most exported Italian food products are wine, chocolate, coffee, confectionery, pasta, bread and starchy products, processed and preserved fruit and vegetables, milk products but also cured meats. Italian pasta, after the 2.6 billion euro record in exports in 2019, in March 2020 recorded a further increase in foreign sales by 21%, with +97 thousand tons of exports, of which 72 thousand to EU markets.

Italian wine exports in 2020

Wine exports also recorded positive figures against all expectations, with a 5.1% growth on non-EU markets in the first quarter of 2020. These figures are food for thought (no pun intended): how will the trends of Italian agri-food exports change after the pandemic?

It is possible to imagine that those who invest in sustainability, digital and communication will be the first to rise up and will be competitive, as will those who will be able to adapt to the tastes and habits of the countries to be conquered, trying to get to know them well and aiming for significant public support. To write her article Anna Prandoni chatted with many of the sector’s key players, and there appears to be a recurring theme: the word renaissance.

Market orientation and trade agreements as drivers of export development

Market orientation is perhaps the overriding theme: 2021 is the year in which to learn to communicate differently, and above all to understand that we must adapt to the country we export to, in order to grasp the features of each market.

Of course, institutional support cannot be left out of the equation, and in this we could take as a reference the trade agreements entered into with Canada or Japan, which are yielding excellent results in economic terms and in terms of recognition.

The weight of Italian sounding and counterfeiting

Italian sounding, that is the attempt to imitate our products of excellence in product names and labels, with the aim of selling cheap copies thereof, is a serious problem for the sector. According to Coldiretti and Filiera Italia, the “fake” Made in Italy agri-food sector is worth over 100 billion euro worldwide, with a record increase by 70% over the last decade. More than two out of three products sold worldwide as “Italian” are fake.

The first way to defeat these imitations is to make any products that are passed off as Italian illegal. And this is what the bilateral agreements between the European Union and Canada do, for example, by guaranteeing the protection of 160 Italian PDO and PGI products, which can be sold with an Italian name only if they genuinely originate from Italian companies.

No trade agreements means less protection for Italian food products

Following the Ceta, Canadian tariffs on imports from Europe were reduced by 98%, and exports over the last two years have grown at double-digit rates. The United States, on the other hand, do not have a bilateral agreement in place, which is why many Italian brands are not protected: hence, no Italian manufacturer is able to compete with fake products. 2021 must also be the year of consumer education: China, the main potential market for Italian products, has a great culinary tradition, however its young population is increasingly looking for Western and sought-after products. It is necessary to make these products known to them, and above all to make them understand that the authenticity of their choice is a determining factor for their final quality. The market is still very large and therefore there is room for all, provided one understands how and where to invest.

Training and storytelling: what exporters say

More generally, with which products can the foreign market be attacked? Vito Palumbo, brand manager of Tormaresca wine cellars, explains that Puglia is very coveted, Primitivo is the driving variety at the moment, but - above all thanks to American people’s passion for wine - there are excellent hopes for rosé wines, which could soon equal the more famous Provençal ones. For this reason, training, storytelling and in- depth studies are key, taking advantage of the new habits and potential of the digital world.

Indeed, this is the philosophy behind I Love Italian Food, the international network that promotes and defends authentic Italian food and wine culture. A community that since 2015 has reached out to over three billion digital contacts worldwide. According to its founder, Alessandro Schiatti, it is possible to rethink the way we do training. It will be necessary to take advantage of the opportunities left behind by the pandemic: today it is possible to conduct training sessions but also to organise events and wine-tasting tours in a new, much more cost-effective way and be able to reach out to professionals in every corner of the planet. Will Italian agri-food exports save Italy’s budget? It will be possible if we are able to seize all the opportunities offered by the new scenario. To recap: in 2021 the food sector will have to focus heavily on its potential, that is, exports and Made in Italy protection. But not only that: there is also room to push hard on training, to improve communication and to offer new experiences to customers.

In a nutshell: innovation is always the trump card.