‘We are building a loyal fan base of crisp lovers’

Surviving in Italy often means going out on a limb. Pete Grey, from the UK, and his Italian business partner, Marcello Esposito, looked to Britain for inspiration, and are now daring to challenge Italians' taste in food with a classic British product.

'We are building a loyal fan base of crisp lovers'
Pete Grey, left, and Marcello Esposito are selling Brown Bag Crisps in northern Italy

How did you come up with the idea to sell Brown Bag crisps in Italy?

Marcello Esposito and I were looking for a product that is successful in the UK and not readily available in Italy. There are Italian crisp manufactures in Italy but they tend to produce salted crisps or very mild flavoured crisps. We thought and hoped the Italians were ready for crisps that burst with flavour, and to make sure we gave the Italians a good product; we chose a crisp that had consistently won awards for their flavour and quality.

It's a popular brand in the UK, so how did you go about making contact with the producer and getting permission to sell it in Italy?

I sent an email to Phil and Viv Lamb, who run Brown Bag Crisps from Surrey [in southern England], and said we were interested in marketing their crisps in Italy. They both have a passion for Italy and were very excited by the opportunity. Phil told me that included on the packet was an Italian translation of the ingredients, in the hope that one day they might be able to sell them in Italy.

Can you give an idea of the amount of work and cost that was involved in doing that?

We started discussions in January of this year, and our first delivery arrived in the second week of March. The only reason we managed to progress so quickly is because of the professionalism and enthusiasm of both Phil and Viv. We managed to keep the costs of bringing an idea of a product to availability in a store by carefully monitoring our expenses. We continue to try and control our costs by using social media to create recognition of the product. We have a website at and our Facebook page is open to comments from customers and we are slowly growing a loyal following of crisp lovers.

It was necessary for me to fly to the UK to visit a couple of factories to check the quality of their crisps and to talk to different manufacturers before we settled on Brown Bag Crisps. To make sure we had chosen the best product, we invited a group of Italian friends to come and do a blind tasting of different manufactures’ crisps, and Brown Bag Crisps were picked every time, which is probably why Harrods of London stock them.

What kind of permission was needed in Italy to distribute the crisps?

Marcello is our expert when it comes to navigating Italian bureaucracy; over the years he has gained valuable experience in both import and export. He knows which paperwork needs to be completed and the necessary permission to be asked to start such a business. He has organised all the legal documentation and obtained the special permissions for importing food items. Although the crisps are a packaged food, our company still needs an employee who has passed a specific exam to be allowed to handle food items. In fact, you need to pass this exam even if you want to sell cigarettes, which are not even eaten!

Whereabouts in Italy are they on sale?

We are based in Casale Monferrato in northern Italy, so we have started with shops and bars in the Monferrato region. We are currently in discussion with some national distributors and we hope our crisps will be available throughout Italy in the very near future.

What did shops distributing the crisps think of the idea?

We initially had a mixed response, but we soon learnt it is no good going into a bar with a leaflet and expecting the owner to order our crisps; we discovered the best way to sell the crisps is to walk in with a couple of packets, open them and let the crisps sell themselves. I also think some shop and bar owners are a little bemused by an Englishman using his basic Italian to sell an English product.

Which market are you mainly targeting…foreigners or Italians, or both?

We are targeting everyone, crisps in the UK are eaten by everyone; we hope we can produce the same enthusiasm for our national snack here. The crisps arrive in Italy in boxes of single flavours, but I received a request from an English lady in Vicenza for two boxes of mixed crisps; we were happy to oblige and sent them to her by TNT express. I hope we will always be able to provide the personal touch for anyone who is as enthusiastic about crisps as we are.

Are you planning to import any other foreign produce?

The tastes and needs of Italians are changing and we are sure we can tempt them with other British products, we have already started early discussions with a number of UK household names.

Going it alone seems to be the main way for foreigners to succeed in Italy. Would you say this is true?

They say the English are a nation of shopkeepers, so it is no surprise that we try to look for opportunities to open our own little business, no matter where we end up living. Even if you are fluent in Italian, it can be very difficult to find a job, so we open shops or teach English or provide some other service. We don’t realise how difficult it is to run a business in Italy until we open one and then it is too late, so we just work hard.

What are the benefits and pitfalls of being entrepreneurial in Italy?

There is nothing more exciting than gaining your first order and seeing your product in a shop. When our first delivery of crisps was due to arrive at our warehouse I was pacing up and down waiting for them, very much like a father anxiously waiting for the birth of his first child. There are many pitfalls including long hours, hard work and if something goes wrong, you have to rectify the problem yourself and quickly.

What would you advise those seeking do to the same?

Find something that you have a passion for, something you understand. Sit down and do the sums, work out if you can make a living from your idea and then talk to people you trust and who know you; discuss your plan with them and see if you can convince them, but be prepared when they manage to shoot your brilliant idea full of holes and point out the detail you missed. But never give up keeping on trying to find that niche in the market or that special service that you can provide.

Peter and Marcello’s website can be found at and they would love to hear from anyone who has a passion for crisps.

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