Most debates concerning food marketing and Italy revolve around Italian food being (mostly successfully) marketed abroad. But what of international food brands being marketed in Italy? Is the Country really as conservative as they say when it comes to what ends up on our table? Is it better for a foreign product to blend in and imitate the local flavours or flaunt its exotic origin? Then answer, unsurprisingly, is “it depends”. Thousands of new food products are launched in Italy every year, and barely a quarter manages to stay on the market for longer than 4 years. In most cases, the rapid churn of food brands on the Italian market is due to inadequate promotion, rather than poor quality.
Food marketing in Italy: does your brand have what it takes?
How our habits are changing
Italy may be viewed as a stronghold of culinary tradition, but the general public’s eating habits have evolved remarkably fast over the past decade. Many brands are finding it difficult to keep pace with a rapidly-changing market, with recipes and ingredients that go in and out of fashion almost from one season to the next. New niches have emerged, tradition has been disputed and reinterpreted, then defended and reinstated. Ingredients have been alternatively demonized and then hailed as life-saving super-foods. Subcultures have also been demanding greater attention of late, piquing the market’s interest in vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, palm-oil-free and pretty-much-anything-else-free products. This last phenomenon, in particular, is an invaluable asset for those involved in food marketing, as it makes it easier to position a brand or product in the appropriate niche.
Position your brand
The yearly food expenditure per family in Italy is higher than in most European countries and more diverse than you might imagine. This second decade of the XXI Century, in particular, has seen a rise in what is termed “ethnic food”. This is due partly to ubiquitous trends such as sushi and Mexican food and partly to the increase in foreign residents, that has created a demand for markets and shops that sell ingredients not normally found in Italian cuisine. As well as catering to their respective communities, these shops have also attracted the attention of the more curious and adventurous Italian gourmands. Other growing trends are represented by organic products and quality food (which includes products of certified origin such as DOC, DOP and PGI). Having established that, the first thing you should do when positioning your product on the market is trying to determine whether it can be fit for one of these categories. If, for instance, your brand specialises in products whose main ingredients are local to your Country or region and not traditionally found in Italy, then it is advisable to market it as an exotic delicacy, highlighting the cultural value that its history adds to the consumer’s experience. Target pioneers and exotic food enthusiasts with your campaign, and steer clear of the more traditional segments of the public: you are not going to bring them over to your side. The same goes for products that are naturally gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan: these are all selling points that should not be neglected in your food marketing strategy.
Don’t be tone-deaf
Before you market your food brand to the Italian public, you should research cultural differences and decide on the tone your campaign is going to use. While emotional storytelling in adverts is now more or less ubiquitous, it is still less pronounced on the Italian market than the American market, for instance. On the other hand, humour – even dark humour – is not frowned upon (one of our most successful commercials for children’s snacks features a meteorite crushing a little girls’ family members one by one). You should also be aware that what might be a selling point on other national markets might be less impressive here. For instance, most brands of fruit juice in Italy offer 100% fruit products with no added sugar, which makes this simply a fact, rather than a selling point. Whereas, in most other Countries, most fruit juices contain water, added sugar, food colouring and other elements that are rarely found in their Italian equivalents, making it profitable for all-natural juice brands to advertise it as a selling point.
Food marketing in Italy is a tricky business and it requires in-depth knowledge of the local audiences. Make sure you hire experienced marketing professionals to help you plan an effective marketing campaign for your food brand!