Consumers will continue to appreciate the quality and safety of Italian food despite shifts in demand caused by the coronavirus emergency, said Matteo Picariello, the director of ITA – Italian Trade Agency Canada.
Food retail has weathered the storm amid unprecedented lockdowns introduced in several countries to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but challenges remain for smaller specialty stores and the foodservice channel.
Grocery sales in Canada were up 38% in the week ending March 14 compared to their average sales in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. This represents a 16% increase from revenues recorded in the busiest shopping week of the year leading up to the December holidays, the institute said.
“I don’t see a problem for the reputation and branding of made in Italy goods after the crisis, but I see a problem in consumption,” Picariello told Italianfood.net.
THE NEW NORMAL
During the Covid-19 emergency, consumers have changed their shopping habits to prioritize staples such as pasta, dry food, frozen, and other products with a longer shelf life. Pantry loading has posed challenges to retailers to refill their stocks as many items sold out fast. Producers have reduced SKUs to increase volumes of most needed products, industry officials say.
The closure of restaurants, hotels and public venues has affected food consumption in Canada. While grocery retail in Canada is a larger market for imported Italian products than ho.re.ca, gourmet stores are suffering during the emergency as consumers prefer to go to supermarkets for their routine shopping and focus on primary goods rather than premium, Picariello explained. “For me the biggest issue is demand,” the director of ICE Canada said.
Picariello said he sees a potential increase in demand for local products as a way for consumers to support their economy. “Although there is no official campaign about it, there is attention about buying local to support local producers during the crisis,” he said. However, the supply chain is working and products are coming from Italy despite some delays, he explains.
ICE CANADA: ITALIAN FOOD GOING BEYOND PREMIUM
Government-backed ITA – Italian Trade Agency, which has offices around the world including North America, is working to continue to support producers and exporters during the pandemic by offering advice and sharing trade resources. The Toronto-based agency is upbeat about an initiative it contributed to forge between Walmart Canada and Italy’s top supermarket chain, COOP (through its international branch Coop Italian Food).
Under the deal, for the first time the store brand of an Italian retailer – COOP’s Fior Fiore – is available on the shelves of a large North American chain (in the private label industry, foreign chains tend to import products to sell under their own brands). The presence of the Italian brand will enhance the authentic and certified quality of the products.
Another important benefit of the partnership is the opportunity for Italian food products to expand their presence in mass-market retail (affordable genuine quality), going beyond the “premium” category.
Walmart Canada started to offer pasta, sauces and pesto, with a plan to launch special oils and vinegars in the summer, followed by a baking line for Thanksgiving. The partnership model is potentially without limits as it explores the Italian lifestyle. A project to bring together food and kitchen is also under consideration.