There are few industries more important to the efficient running of a country than that which deals with food. Rightly designated as ‘essential’ in most of the countries currently afflicted by COVID-19, the food sector is working tirelessly in Italy as elsewhere to make sure the public has adequate access to the foods they want and need. Like almost every area of the economy, however, these days have proved challenging.
As one of Europe’s (and, indeed, the world’s) most active food exporters, the Italian food industry hasn’t been without its troubles. In this post, we take a look at the latest data from ISMEA (The Italian Institute for agricultural and food industries) to probe the issues it’s facing, and how it’s dealing with them.
A reduction in orders
As previously reported, some areas of the Italian food industry have seen orders increase enormously; dried pasta and tinned vegetables have been among the winners. When you consider the sector as a whole, however, there has been a reduction in the total amount of orders being placed. According to a survey conducted by ISMEA, 69% of Italian producers (across different categories) have experienced a drop in demand. This has been most pronounced with red meat, dairy products, and wine. The reason for this, according to the report, is the temporary suspension of the hospitality industry, which accounts for an enormous portion of internal sales.
To counter this lag in demand and ensure that small, independent producers keep their heads above water, Coldiretti (a cooperative of Italian agricultural companies) have launched a #mangiaitaliano (‘Eat Italian’) campaign aimed at increasing demand within Italy. The campaign has seen smaller producers group together and offer home-delivery services, a trend that’s currently on the up across Europe.
The second most significant issue, according to the report, is transport. In Italy as elsewhere, supply chains have been affected by panic buying and a shortage of truck drivers, causing a strain on transportation. 17% of producers responded that they’re currently experiencing problems with getting products to clients.
This isn’t an easy problem to solve, and it’s not limited to Italy. So far, the logistics sector as a whole has responded by embarking on a sustained hiring campaign and agreeing to relaxed regulations on transporting goods (hours worked by truck drivers, for instance) across Europe. The result is that whilst there are some minor delays in products reaching clients, there are by no means severe delays or stock shortages.
As we’ve previously reported, some Italian producers have been requested to include a ‘virus-free’ label on their packaging by a small number of buyers. According to the ISMEA report, 5% of producers have received requests for increased labelling such as this in the past few weeks.
Whilst this appears a small problem in comparison with others, it could have significant consequences. Any normalisation of a ‘virus-free’ labelling system would lead consumers to believe that COVID-19 can actually be transmitted by food products, which numerous studies have already confirmed is not the case. Aside from misleading the public, however, the other consequence is reputational damage for the Italian food industry. To avoid this from happening, the Italian government has taken stern action – alongside Italian foreign minister Di Maio calling out countries where ‘virus-free’ labelling has been requested for Italian products, a group of Italian MEPs has raised a question with the European Parliament in order to spur counter-measures. The aim is to dispel any misinformation and maintain the global standing of the ‘Made in Italy’ brand.
In this period of rapid change, Italy’s food industry is proving just how resilient it is. With help from the government and industry bodies, producers are rising to new challenges in order to provide clients with the food they need. Although there may be some bumps along the road, this pandemic will end, and Italian producers will still be meeting the needs of international buyers when it does.
If you’re currently experiencing issues sourcing any food products from Italy, please get in contact with The Italian Food Experts. We work with an extensive network of small to medium producers across Italy and will be able to link you up with a suitable supplier. As always, all of our advice is free and entirely non-committal.