Food fight foils ‘Made in Italy’ plan

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For the Italian government, it seemed like a recipe for success: create an official “Made in Italy” logo to defend the country’s finest food exports from an army of foreign impersonators.

On supermarket shelves worldwide, a star-shaped logo would mark out real Italian cheeses, hams, pasta and sparkling wines from those that only look or sound Italian, such as Parmesan made in New Zealand or Prosecco bottled in Brazil.

But Rome has discovered that even the simplest recipe can go wrong. Instead of unifying Italy’s food industry against a common enemy that is bagging billions of euros in sales, the government’s proposal for a Made in Italy certification quickly created bitter divisions.

A row has erupted over what it means to be truly Italian – should every single raw ingredient be made in Italy, for example – and now the project could be ditched altogether for lack of an industry consensus, according to two industry ministry sources who declined to be named as talks with food firms are ongoing.

“For now there is no final decision on whether to go ahead with the Made in Italy sign, we are studying it, we are doing technical checks,” said one of the sources, an industry ministry official who is working on the project.

“We will launch it only if it fully meets the requests of producers,” he said, adding that the food industry was split into several groups with conflicting views on the project.

Prosecco wine bottles are seen in a cellar in the Valdobbiadene valley, Italy, Oct 25, 2005. Reuters

The ministry announced the project at the end of last year, and began consultations with food producers in March, in response to industry complaints that foreign-made foods masquerading as Italian produce were costing the country billions of euros in lost export sales.
A logo guaranteeing Italian origin would enable exporters to grab some of the roughly 60 billion euros ($67 billion) in annual global sales generated by foreign imitations, according to Italy’s food producers’ lobby, Federalimentare.

Marketing experts agree. Brand Finance, a global consultancy that compiles an index of the world’s most valuable brands, estimates it could add up to 5 percent to the enterprise value of small and medium-sized Italian food companies.

“Domestic companies would surely gain from such a logo given that Italy has a high reputation in the food sector and many of them are not well known outside the country,” said Massimo Pizzo, Italy managing director for Brand Finance.

However, Federalimentare’s members could not agree on a definition of Italian-made. Some took a hard line, insisting products be made entirely in Italy from ingredients sourced at home, while others argued for a less stringent approach.

‘If we open the door..’

The consortium of producers of Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of Italian cheeses, insists on rigid standards for everyone.

Cheese makers prepare curds for Parmesan cheese at 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia dairy cooperative in Modena, Italy, Feb 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

“If we open the door to products with foreign ingredients, we are not talking of real Made in Italy … this is not the kind of help we are looking for,” said Riccardo Deserti, chairman of the consortium.
Under the consortium’s rules, recognised across the European Union, cheese can only be marketed as Parmigiano Reggiano, or by its English name Parmesan, if it is made according to a precise method within a restricted area around the town of Parma.

The consortium of Prosecco wine producers takes a similar stance, rejecting the idea of being put in the same authenticity category as products made with foreign raw materials.

On the other hand, some firms believe traditional Italian production methods should be enough to qualify for the logo.

Barilla, the world’s biggest pasta maker, wants to carry the Made in Italy logo though 16 of its 30 plants are abroad, including in the United States and Russia.

“We are Italian, we pay taxes

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