`Farmers Denounce Yet Another Sale of 'Made In Italy'

Europe

Farmers Denounce Yet Another Sale of 'Made In Italy'

Oct. 16, 2014
Simone Innamorati

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Salov was founded near Lucca, Italy in 1919 (photo: Salov Group)

Last week, the Fontana fam­ily announced its plan to relin­quish its major­ity stake in the com­pany that pro­duces Fil­ippo Berio, among other lead­ing olive oil brands, to Chi­nese super group, Bright Food. Although the fam­ily will retain a minor­ity stake, Bright Food’s involve­ment sig­nals a new era for the 95 year-old com­pany.

These changes have not gone unno­ticed by the indus­try, par­tic­u­larly Italy’s active asso­ci­a­tion of farm­ers, Coldiretti. Though there were no out­right protests, it was clear the news was not well received in every cir­cle.

Il Gior­nale wrote Anche l’o­lio toscano par­lerà cinese.” Trans­lated, the title said it all: Even Tus­can oil will speak Chi­nese.” It was a thinly-veiled ref­er­ence to the slow, but delib­er­ate takeover of Ital­ian brands by for­eign groups. Before, they were Span­ish and French. Now it’s the Rus­sians and the Chi­nese,” the farm­ers com­plained.

The other part of the story, the one that does not always get reported out­side Italy’s press, is the tale of a deep reces­sion, so wide­spread it has dra­mat­i­cally changed the way Ital­ians live and do busi­ness.

Unapro­l’s David Granieri

David Granieri, pres­i­dent of Unaprol, argued that Italy could not afford to lose so many fam­ily jew­els.” He called the olive oil indus­try a value chain to cre­ate wealth and jobs” within Italy. If the chain is bro­ken, Italy will become poorer.

Coldiretti was quick to express its con­cerns about the Fontana fam­ily becom­ing minor­ity stake­hold­ers. They said the reces­sion has led to an esca­la­tion in Made in Italy’ acqui­si­tions.” They argue it is the big multi­na­tion­als, who are flee­ing from Italy, instead of invest­ing in the agro national.”

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Salov isn’t the first olive oil group to be sold to a for­eign buyer. The list is long: Cara­pelli, Par­malat and Buitoni, among oth­ers. Is this acqui­si­tion sim­ply a sign that Salov has out­grown its Euro­pean base or is it an impor­tant shift in ide­ol­ogy? For Ital­ian farm­ers it is the lat­ter.

The stakes are high. Aggres­sive expan­sion into new mar­kets like India and China will require big changes in the way olive oil is sourced and pro­duced in Italy. How Ital­ians and tra­di­tion­al­ists will react to these changes remains to be seen. Salov has promised to retain its strong her­itage. For now, it seems the old adage applies, When in Rome, do as Romans do.”


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