The British love affair with Italian food goes way back to the eighteenth century. Rural immigrants fled poverty in Italy to set up home in London, Glasgow and Newcastle where many made a living in the food trade, dishing up steaming bowlfuls of pasta with Chianti and tiramisu in restaurants and cafes all over the UK. Delighted British customers were quickly hooked and 200 years later the popularity of Italian cuisine hasn’t waivered.
ITALIAN CUISINE, THE MOST POPULAR – According to a 2015 report from grocery experts IGD Italian is now the most popular international cuisine in the UK knocking Chinese off the top spot, and beating Indian and American too. Perhaps more significantly three quarters of shoppers surveyed by the charity said they wanted to see more choice of international foods in their local supermarket, with those under-35 years old keen to see more Italian foods in particular. This creates a huge opportunity for Italian brands.
THE BRITISH RETAILERS’ STRATEGY – As a result “retailers have been investing heavily in their range of world foods, with many stores now dedicating significant floor space and whole aisles to these ranges,” says Vanessa Henry, insight shopper manager at IGD. Competition is stiff though. Brands keen to secure a listing with the major multiples will need to pay close attention to authenticity and provenance to satisfy consumers now more educated in Italian cuisine, according to Paola Tantardini, director of Italian Deli Capricci. “The market is more competitive and people are looking for more than pizza, pasta and olive oil,” he says.
DEMAND FOR ORGANIC AND HEALTHY FOOD ON THE RISE – “The interest for Italian products is still the same but the market is in constant evolution,” says David Toffoli, managing director of organic Italian foods supplier Naturali. “For example, basic pasta can be easily found in UK supermarkets but people are looking for more and more organic, bio, lactose free and gluten free products.” “Organic and vegan product sales are dramatically increasing,” he adds. “This is a gap in the market we are constantly trying to fill.”
ITALIAN CUISINE, THE MOST VEGAN FRIENDLY – Italian is arguably one of the most vegan-friendly among all international cuisines. Vegan cookbooks dedicated to Italian food, such as Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, are already on sale and a number of Italian brands have found their way onto animal rights group PETA’s ‘Accidentally Vegan’ list too. “Many brands have been created following this trend” and yet “this range of products is not available in the UK big supermarkets,” adds Toffoli leaving plenty of opportunity for innovative Italian brands to grab the attentions of buyers at the major grocers.
M&S TO LAUNCH EXTRA SPECIAL ITALIAN CHARCUTERIE – “Our customers love our Italian foods,” said a spokeswoman for Marks and Spencer. “We recently launched new authentic wood fired and stone baked pizzas which have been flying off the shelves, currently up 25% on the year” and in “April we are launching extra special Italian charcuterie, including Culatello di Parma, known as ‘the king of cured meats’ and Prosciutto Arrosto, made in Tuscany‘s undulating hills.” It’s clear the British love affair with Italian food is still going strong. As Henry says, “British shoppers have developed an insatiable appetite for exotic tastes in their own home” and Italian is their number one choice.
By Megan Saunders