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TURIN

‘We aim to bring Italian excellence to the world’

With a difficult business climate at home, some Italian companies are focusing on foreign markets. The Local heads to Turin to find out how gourmet food company Eataly succeeded in going global.

'We aim to bring Italian excellence to the world'
Eataly's Turin store was opened in 2007. Photo: Eataly

Less than eight years after his father turned an old factory into a food store in Turin, Francesco Farinetti, the company's head of distribution, is waxing lyrical about Eataly’s global expansion.

“We’re growing in Italy but abroad we have the chance to grow even more,” he tells The Local over coffee at the company’s flagship store.

Likening Eataly’s format to that of Harrods in London, where customers can both dine and take produce home, Farinetti says the international market has been a key part of the business strategy.

“Perhaps it’s easier to open a store in Italy, but then afterwards it’s more difficulty because we’re in an economic crisis,” he says.

Italy’s economy is forecast to shrink by 0.3 percent in 2014 and return to growth next year. Eataly's foreign expansion, meanwhile, is set to see turnover reach €280 million this year.

Eataly opened its Turin store ahead of the downturn in 2007, with founder Oscar Farinetti making the unusual decision to launch in Tokyo the following year. He knew the market thanks to his time running the electronics company, UniEuro, and quickly set about opening 13 stores across Japan.

“It’s the New York of Asia,” says Francesco Farinetti. “If we can do it in Tokyo we can do it in other markets.”

Eataly

Eataly now has over 3,600 employees and a presence in the US, Turkey and the UAE, with plans to open in Brazil and Russia next year. The latter could be subject to delays, however, as Russia earlier this year hit EU countries with a food embargo.

The company’s expansion can be put down to a mixture of courage and madness, plus a knowledge of numbers and the right contacts, Farinetti says.

“It’s fundamental to find the right people. You can have the best format in the world, but if you choose the wrong people you won’t be successful,” he says.

Eataly teamed up with restaurateurs Batali & Bastianich and Italophiles Adam and Alex Saper in New York, opening the first store in 2010 with a second planned for the city next year.

But despite rapid expansion, Eataly faces challenges in selling Italian food around the world.

“There are laws that act as obstacles to exporting certain foods, which come from a sort of protectionism,” Farinetti explains. “Italy has to lobby; this is an important cause for our country.”

While he highlights the Italian Trade Agency (Ice) as one way the government is helping companies move abroad, Farinetti says more needs to be done to support businesses internationally.

“[Italian] embassies should be transformed into offices of representation, to give a hand on the commercial side,” he says, helping businesses navigate new markets.

Eataly is also pushing the government to incentivize companies to go global, creating a “Made in Italy” trademark to ensure their products are quality-stamped.

“We can compete on quality; we can never compete on cost,” Farinetti says, lamenting the misleading Italy branding on cheap products made elsewhere.

The company’s future success depends on customers seeing food as an investment.

“The aim is to bring Italian excellence to the world,” he says.

Eataly

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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