Italy protects food with geographic names

Roberto Luongo, CEO of Italian Trade Agency, and Carlo Calenda, Italian vice minister for Economic Development, and Maurizio Forte, trade commissioner at Italian Trade Agency, spoke at a press conference in Chicago.

By Yimian Wu

Italy’s Trade Agency on Tuesday kicked off a three-year plan of promoting authentic Italian foods and beverages and fighting “Italian sounding” products that are actually made in the U.S.

Speaking to the press at FMI Connect, a food and beverage trade show at McCormick Place in Chicago, Carlo Calenda, the Italian vice minister for Economic Development, said the plan will include a media campaign and retail promotion with a budget of 39 million euros ($44 million) a year,

“To produce something with a geographic indication in Italy, you not only need to state the geographic area, but also to respect a very precise standard of profession that cannot be replicated. This keeps the very special taste to the products,” said Calenda.

He said, for example, Gorgonzola and Parmesan and cheeses are  trademarks with Italian geographic indications. He explained that the aim of the campaign is not to protect Italian foods by claiming ownership of them, but to explain to consumers that they’re made differently in Italy, in order to compete with other producers.

“You cannot complain about Italian sounding unless you have your products on the shelves,” said Calenda. Therefore, the first step of the three-year plan is to add more Italian-made products to grocery shelves in four states–New York, California, Illinois and Texas.

The plan also includes advertising campaigns to educate consumers about the value of authentic Italian products, and more participation in trade shows in the U.S. This year there are 52 selected Italian companies exhibiting in the FMI Connect Chicago.

According to an Italian Trade Agency online survey of 1300 consumers in the four targeted states, about half are not aware of the “Italian sounding products.” Non-availability and higher prices are the top two reasons that stop consumers from purchasing authentic Italian products, the survey showed.

However, the majority of those consumers said they’re willing to pay a price premium of about 20 percent for authentic Italian products.

Italian exports of foods and beverages grew 6.2 percent in the U.S last year, according to Calenda. “We estimate that we can grow by 10 to 15 percent a year if we are able to substitute part of what is called ‘Italian sounding’ products,” he said.

Paolo Leonardi, export manager at IGOR, a family-owned Gorgonzola producer exhibiting in FMI Connect, said the taste and composition of Italian Gorgonzola is “completely different” from the U.S.-made. He also said that Americans’ acceptance of the domestic product made it “complicated” for his company to enter the U.S. market. At present, he added, IGOR Gorgonzola is available only at Whole Foods and Publix markets in the U.S.

Maurizio Forte, trade commissioner at the Italian Trade Agency, said advertising on TV, the web and in print will commence in October. In-store promotions will be launched at the same time in 470 Mariano’s, Price Chopper and HEB-Texas stores for two to three weeks.

He also said that Italy expects to increase food exports to the U.S. by 806 million euros (about $908 million) in 2016.

Photo at top: Roberto Luongo, CEO of the Italian Trade Agency, Carlo Calenda, Italian vice minister for Economic Development, and Maurizio Forte, trade commissioner at the Italian Trade Agency, spoke at a press conference in Chicago. (Yimian Wu/Medill)