Interest in healthy eating is growing, influenced by demographic and lifestyle changes. After covid, awareness of the relationship between diet and health and of the environmental impact of food choices is increasing, together with interest in food and wine experiences linked to tradition.
These are among the discoveries of the Rome Business School research “ The food sector in Italy. Consumption trends and challenges between innovation and the fight against counterfeiting ” curated by Valerio Mancini, Director of the Rome Business School’s Dissemination Research Center, and Davide Mondin, Professor at ALMA, the International School of Italian Cuisine. The study presents post-pandemic consumption trends in the food sector, the perception and defense of quality, Italian food and wine tourism, the best-selling products in Italy and abroad and the issue of counterfeiting in the context of food and wine.
The consumption trends that triggered the pandemic continue to be confirmed : attention to sustainability, increasingly shorter supply chains, greater consumption of natural foods and sustainable cuisines , as evidenced by Cortilia ‘s research carried out on a sample of 2,872 customers aged between 25 and 64 (2023). 82% of the sample prefer artisan foods, 89% opt for anti-waste purchasing formulas and 66% choose organic products . In fact, according to estimates by Global Market Insights, already in 2023 the organic food production sector will reach a value of 12 billion dollars.
Always Global Market Insights, it offers an overview of the ingredients that dominate the tables in 2023 . If in 2022 the protagonists were turmeric, sunflower seeds, hibiscus, moringa, yuzu and soft drinks , 2023 is marked by new foods and big returns . In the first case, directly from oriental cuisine, seaweed , baobab fruit, chia seeds and yaupon fruit stand out . On the other hand, chicken (especially from non-intensive farms) and dates are making a comeback. According to the Immagino Observatory (2023), there is also an even greater interest in lactose-free products, which already in 2022 marked a growth of +12% and vegan ones +3%. In addition, interest in insects will continue to grow , the global market for which is expected to reach more than $1.5 billion by 2026.
At a national level, when choosing a product, Italians pay close attention to quality: an increasingly important selection criterion at the time of purchase is represented by the “connection” between the product and Italy . Particular attention is paid to the presence of the “Made in Italy ” or “100% Italian” claims , and the DOP, DOC, DOCG, IGP and IGT quality certifications. Furthermore, according to a survey by Altroconsumo (January 2023), for products such as meat and bread, 79% of Italians prefer to go to the butcher and 89% to the bakery, while they prefer the supermarket to buy dairy products (77%) and fruit and vegetables (70%).
Taking a look at exports in 2022, Italian exports reached a record 28.5 billion euros, with an increase of +21% compared to 2021 , overtaking Germany and France in the European Union. Not only that, the Italian food industry has reached a historical record of 60 billion euros in turnover, with an increase of 14.7% compared to 2021, with Germany as the main outlet market, followed by the United States and France.
However, over 66% of Made in Italy agri-food products are counterfeit , according to the Ministry of the Interior (July, 2023). In particular, in terms of illicit food and wine production, the United States is the one that records the highest turnovers, with 40 billion euros, a third of all the sector’s revenues.
Italy typical products and agri-food alone move 1 out of 4 tourists (22.3% of Italian tourists and 29.9% of foreigners) according to the report on Italian food and wine tourism 2023 of the Italian Food and Wine Tourism Association. They are also very careful in choosing: according to Eumondo data (2022), 23.8% of tourists research information on restaurants before leaving, while 28.3% are dedicated to researching and booking restaurants once they arrive at their destination . In particular, Italian tourists indicate relatives and friends as the main source of information on food and wine activities in 54% of cases , according to a survey by the Italian Food and Wine Tourism Association (2023).
According to data from the European Travel Commission , Italy, in addition to being in the top 3 favorite destinations for European tourists in 2023, is the world leader in food and wine tourism: in 2022, 67% of Italian tourists had at least 5 food and wine experiences, the most interested regions being Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and Campania. A clearly growing figure on 2021 (+25%) driven by 94% of Italian tourists who had culinary experiences in restaurants and by 74% of those who visited production sites in 2021.
“Surely one of the factors that has influenced the increase in interest in this sector are the publications made on social networks with travel recommendations and advice. By now, even restaurateurs pay great attention to the use of photography and influencers, to make locations and dishes ‘ instagrammable ‘” says Valerio Mancini. In fact, the chefs want to satisfy even the finest palates by rediscovering simple and traditional dishes but revisiting them in a gourmet version, focusing ever more decisively on the visual aspect of the food.
The sector has transformed in recent years to respond to changes in consumer behavior such as the search for healthy and sustainable food, artisanal and local ingredients. Companies are therefore investing more and more in research to develop healthier products, reducing harmful substances and promoting sustainable and allergen-free foods. In particular, at European level the aim is to reduce calories by 20% in foods high in sugar, salt, calories and saturated fats, which could prevent 688,000 non-communicable diseases by 2050, save 278 million euros per year in health expenditure, and to increase employment and productivity by a share equal to 18,000 full-time workers per year (OECD data, 2019).
“For Italy, the future of the sector will depend on the ability to adapt to consumer needs, maintaining high quality standards and preserving the authenticity of food products through the use of certifications, greater attention to sustainability, and further efforts the fight against food counterfeiting”, concludes Davide Mondin.