The Italian food industry is crisis-proof

According to Ismea's latest report, Southern food companies and milling companies are the most resistant. This is why

Examining economic and financial indicators, the market research firm Ismea has analyzed the vulnerability to crises of one of Italy’s most relevant economic sectors: food industry. A sector that proves to be very dynamic, robust and resilient in the face of difficulties, including the current pandemic-fueled crisis. In fact, 42% of Italian agri-food companies have characteristics such as to guarantee a good resilience even during shock crisis situations.

This “hard core” is flanked by a large production area (36% of the sample) – that can be defined as “middle ground” – with some debt exposure problems that could degenerate due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency. Even more worrying is the situation of the remaining 21% of the sample, the “soft underbelly” of the Italian food industry system, characterized by a high level of vulnerability.

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The sectors with a greater share of “high resistance” companies are the Italian milling industries (63% of companies fall into this category), the liquor industry (59%), and the chocolate, coffee and tea ones (both around 53%). On the contrary, the worst picture is in the beer and olive oil sectors where, respectively, 38% and 34% of companies are in the most critical area.

Italian agri-food exports by products

ProductSales (mio €)% Var. 2019 on 2018
Cereals, rice and derivatives6,573+6.9%
Wine and musts 6,434+3.2%
Fresh fruit and vegetables4,643-2.3%
Processed fruit and vegetables3,809+2.3%
Other drinks2,907+15.8%
Oils and fats1,881-5.4%
Industrial crops1,830+53.4%
Other food products8,032+8.6%
Total Food Products44,647+6%
Source: ISMEA elaborations on ISTAT data


The companies’ size is also an essential indicator to predict their resistance to crisis. More than a quarter of companies employing no more than 9 people presents elements of vulnerability (27%). A percentage that is significantly reduced considering larger enterprises: it drops to 9% in those with more than 250 employees.


Another comforting sign comes from the estimate of the differences in the degree of resistance to crises at a territorial level. In the South of Italy, the area with the most resistant companies is larger (45%), albeit slightly, compared to the Centre-North (42%).

Exports of the main Italian F&B products (% Var. 2019 on 2014)

ProductVolume %Value %
Fresh fruit and vegetables-0.2%+21.5%
Processed fruit and vegetables (except tomato)+48.2%+50.1%
Processed tomatoes+18.8%+11.2%
Fruit preserves+11.8%+13%
Virgin and extra virgin olive oil-12.3%+9%
Other vegetable oils+32.6%+16.6%
Wines (up to 15 % vol., less than 2 liters)-0.8%+14.6%
Sparkling white wines+72.8%+88%
Sparkling red wines +7.8%+20.9%
Boneless hams, speck, culatellos+12.1%+14.5%
Cooked hams+35.4%+42.1%
Cured meats and salami+25.4%+28.8%
Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses+20%+40.3%
Pecorino and Fiore Sardo cheeses+25.7%+13.5%
Blue cheeses+23.5%+25%
Fresh cheeses and dairy products+42%+46.8%
Grated or powdered cheese+87.9%+99.6%
Soft cheeses+11.5%+11.7%
Seasonal products+32.1%+35.6%
Bread and bread substitutes+45.1%+54.7%
Milled rice-7.1%+5.6%
Canned tuna+24.5%+41.8%
Mineral waters+34.2%+52.7%
Spirits and liquors+76%+102.4%
Soft drinks+73.6%+70.1%
Coffee and derivatives+62.2%+125.4%
Cocoa-based confectionery+37.6%+44.4%
Source: ISMEA elaborations on ISTAT data


Data on the average age of the companies in the sample shows to what extent the Italian agri-food system is rooted in tradition. The analyzed companies have a history of more than one generation and have been established on average for 26.5 years. However, it is the companies with less than 5 years of life that show a very positive trend in turnover. Despite their small economic size, they have already increased their average revenues by more than 30%.

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