11 September 2020 Share

brand Food Marketing tourism

Is Made in Italy forever?

As more Countries promote the quality of their products and destinations, some essential sectors of the Italian industry are facing with a hard question: is the “Made in Italy” brand still competitive? And how can it guarantee a competitive advantage for our country in the long term?


Filippo Renga, Junior Assistant Professor of Production Plants and Business Organization
School of Management Politecnico di Milano


“Is Made in Italy forever?”: that’s the question that emerged during the 2018 Research of our Smart Agrifood and Digital Innovation in Tourism Observatories.

Beyond the slogan, an important doubt emerged about the competitiveness of some essential sectors of the country’s industry: can the “Paese Italia” brand – identified with the “Made in Italy” and frequently used in many sectors (food, tourism, clothing, music, design, art, etc.) to underline the Italian identity of a product or a service to increase its value on the market – survive intact in the long term and guarantee a competitive advantage for our country?
This is a question we will try to answer through the upcoming research, but which has already found confirmation in some phenomena we are recording.


Food quality is not only Made in Italy

Starting from food, we all know that any product with the “Made in Italy” mark receives special attention by a large part of the international consumers. This gives origin to frauds linked to the “Italian Sounding” (that is the use of images, brands and denominations recalling Italy to market products that are not related to our country in any way. Just think to the well-known “Parmesan”).

However, through our experience we realized that more and more countries promote the quality of their food products, thereby dispelling the myth of the “quality food” as a prerogative of Italy. For example, it is interesting to notice that in extremely attended international events dedicated to quality food – such as in London or Berlin – there isn’t a significant presence of Italian companies. Furthermore, food trends often originate outside our country (e.g. organic food). Even though a Google search it is possible to see that, if you insert the words “quality food” in the local language of many countries, no Italian product emerges. Finally, many TV formats about the restaurant industry were born abroad and are therefore imported by us.

This also happens because the concept of quality is anything but unequivocal, as shown by the model of the Food Quality Heptagon (see the Slide Booklet “Quality and sustainability with the digital traceability”) we developed. Many recent successful innovations in the food industry weren’t born in Italy, although they relate to products that have always been considered our “feuds”, as was the case of the coffee with Nespresso and Starbucks; or in the case of tomatoes, of which Holland is one of the first exporters in the world thanks to high-tech indoor farming systems, that made it possible not only to increase the production but also to improve the taste compared to the past.


What happens in tourism

On the other hand, in Tourism the weaknesses of the “Italia Brand” are clearly shown by an analysis of the international tourist flows coming to our country: if in 1970 Italy was in the first place in terms of attraction, in 2017 – according to the UNWTO data – Italy is fifth behind France, Spain, USA and China. You may think that the focus was more on the quality and less on the quantity (and therefore the expense) of the tourists, but numbers say that this did not happen in a significant way more than in other destinations.

The reasons are instead related to different fields, but fundamentally there is a strategic weakness about Tourism and the industries linked to it. If you take for example the Chinese market, among the most interesting both for the number and for the average receipt, Italy is behind the main European competitors for attractiveness. As underlined by Giuliano Noci (Vice Rector of the Chinese campus of the Politecnico di Milano) on the occasion of the Conference of the Digital Innovation in Tourism Observatory of 24 January (download the documents and videos of the Conference “The Italian Digital Way for the future of Tourism”), there was and there still is a lack of a medium/long-term strategy linked to different factors, among which:

  • the inability to give value to our brands (there is no evidence that one of our museums has been able to promote its brand like, for example, the Louvre in Paris did);
  • a structural deficit on connections (especially the aerial ones: Chinese people comes to Italy through other European cities)
  • the storytelling that promotes the territory through the audio-visual industry (mainly the cinema industry) primary vehicle of knowledge and learning for the Chinese (Swiss tourist resorts are the sets of some TV series distributed in China).

If there is a risk that Italy may lose its competitiveness, it could also happen that, due to the extraordinary assets available in our country, the Chinese will start to considerably invest to offer experiences and products to the millions of tourists and consumers looking for Italian contents. Nevertheless, this is already happening in other fields with the clothing or the sports industry.

And then we should add another question to the opening one (“Is Made in Italy forever?”), an equally concerning question: “Made in Italy… by whom?


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