The Fancy Food Show as seen by Donato Cinelli, CEO of Universal Marketing

SFA’s 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner shares his experience as the exclusive organizer of collectives of Italian companies at major international food fairs
The Fancy Food Show as seen by Donato Cinelli, CEO of Universal Marketing

Donato Cinelli, CEO of Universal Marketing, manages Italian pavilions and exhibits at more than 40 international shows each year. His favorite is the Summer Fancy Food Show. “The excitement at the Fancy Food Show is addictive,” says Cinelli, 65. “You can feel the electricity in the air. And the Italian Pavilion is a big contributor to that.”


Cinelli’s parents immigrated to Montreal from Italy when he was eight. He went to school there, met his wife Linda, and had his oldest daughter, Vanessa. After a few years in marketing for department stores and shopping centers, he was contacted by Interexpo, an Italian company specializing in fairs and exhibitions. He moved back to Italy where his second daughter Chiara was born in Rome, and embarked on a 40-year journey in the trade show world.

My motivation was to help Italian companies better present the quality of their products on the international stage,” says Cinelli. “Italy makes some of the best consumer products in the world. Of course, we all appreciate pasta, olive oil, charcuterie, and cheese but there are also shoes, furniture, fashion, and other luxury goods.”

Cinelli knew people from Reed Exhibitions’ office in Italy and asked them who was responsible for the Fancy Food Shows. They referred him to John Roberts, president of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), now the Specialty Food Association. He made a presentation and was hired as SFA’s Italian show organizer.

John took a chance on this young man from Rome,” says Cinelli. “He was an amazing mentor, always curious about Italian products and companies. Of course, it did not hurt that we were the largest exhibitor in the Show.”

For the past 25 years, Cinelli has been at both the Summer and Winter Fancy Food Shows. The largest presence was in 2010 when Italy had 330 booths at the Summer Show.

Cinelli has many stories about the Shows. One year, an Italian exhibitor stole a sofi statue during the Awards reception. SFA executives, leaders of the Italian Trade Commission, and the New York State Police got involved and recovered the statue. In 2016, Cinelli brought over 15 chefs from Italy to participate in Taste It Live and the Italian-sponsored reception, a huge challenge but also a hit for the Italian producers.

When not traveling to the Fancy Food Show, SIAL Paris, FoodEx in Japan, Anuga, or the 35 other annual shows that Universal Marketing participates in, Cinelli lives in a family villa on a hill outside of Rome. He says he is stepping back and letting his daughters Vanessa and Chiara and son-in-law Tomaso run the company. Yet he is always in the middle of the action.

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