Opinions & Interviews
Italian Excellence in food & beverage: How to Build Wonder
Andrea Illy writes: "I immediately recognized that providing the best coffee nature can offer us is not a profession like others, but an idea that includes many professions. An entire conception of the world that contains the marvelous places where the plants grow and the beans are harvested, the elegant cafes and sophisticated conversations between intellectuals; movies, art, designer coffee-cups and production without defects. This idea would change my life."
In this description, we perceive the essence of Italian excellence, know-how without abandoning beauty, the good that is married to the beautiful. This is true above all in the Italian food sector, in which production can never deviate much from the pursuit of high quality products, but also of a typically Italian aesthetic that through beauty is able to reach high targets of true excellence. The aim of this article is to attempt to give a definition of "Italian Excellence" in the food & beverage sector, which is particularly affected by this concept, and to study the principal factors underlying Italian Excellence through the use of some examples regarding Italian companies. The article identifies Italian Excellence as a specific path that companies can follow to offer elements of differentiation to consumers. It is not only a question of satisfying needs of health or pleasure, or focusing on the price-quality relationship, but of acting on specific factors able to construct a true business system in support of what the consumer desires and what the market demands.
Defining Italian Excellence
The term Italian Excellence is used by the Altagamma Foundation, that bring together more than 70 companies in the sectors of fashion, design, food, and hospitality, among others, that represent made in Italy products around the world. For Altagamma, Italian Excellence is companies' ability to combine tradition with modernity, artisanship with technology, aesthetics and functionality in an entirely original way in order to obtain the result of representing the best of Italy and the quality of life that this country makes possible abroad as well. If we focus on the two words Italian Excellence, one regards "Italianness," i.e. complying with what we consider peculiarly Italian or characteristic of Italians in their language, disposition, costume, culture, and civilization. The brand of a nation can be analyzed through many different characteristics, and can be classified in broad terms as mental, sensorial, emotional, and rational associations. According to some studies, the semantic decomposition of these categories shows some specifications of the Italian brand:
- sensorial: art, culture, food, fashion, automobiles;
- emotional: vacation, nice weather, good food, beauty, friendships;
- rational: language, history.
As regards the term "excellence," it is the quality of those who are excellent, i.e. superior to other people and other things of the same kind, based on merit, quality, ability, or fame. There is also a more specific meaning, that of Business Excellence, that has been long studied by the literature. In this case, we refer to a managerial capacity of the companies that are able to obtain better results than their competitors. By joining the two terms we can define Italian Excellence as the characteristics of companies that are linked to knowing how to do things (better than others) in a typically Italian way.
Italian Excellence in food & beverage
Specifically, in the food & beverage sector, Italian Excellence is the ability of companies, using the variables of beauty, goodness and good workmanship, that succeed in representing the Italian system and are recognizable abroad. Let us think of the names present in the Altagamma Foundation. Companies such as Bellavista, Baratti & Milano, and Illy Caffè immediately bring to mind a product that is good, but also aesthetically pleasing, and produced according to certain quality standards. In other words, Italian excellence becomes an essential variable to compete, since it can be a differentiating element able to guarantee recognizability with respect to one's main competitors.
To study Italian Excellence in the food and beverage sector, we need to look at a selection of cases, and through their use, attempt to identify the determinant factors to compete as best as possible. Specifically, we studied a total of 19 Altagamma companies belonging to the food & beverage sector, through the creation of mini-cases, including: Agrimontana, Allegrini, Baratti & Milano, Bellavista, Ca’ del Bosco, Calvisius Caviar, Cantine Ferrari, Domori, Feudi San Gregorio, Illy Caffè, Livio Felluga, Luce Della Vita, Masi Agricola, Mastrojanni, Nonino, Ornellaia, and San Pellegrino, to which we add Antico Frantoio Muraglia and Gentile Gragnano Napoli, winners of the young business prize in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
The determinant factors of Italian Excellence
What do these companies have in common from a managerial point of view? Do determinant factors of Italian Excellence exist that can make it easier to obtain a high level of domestic and international recognition, to the point of becoming a point of reference in Italy and around the world for Made in Italy excellence? The key factors of Italian Excellence are not concentrated only on the critical aspects of the supply chain, people management, or specific marketing actions. To intentionally construct Italian Excellence, it is necessary to involve all of the company's functions, not just single functions such as marketing, operations, or distribution logistics. It is not the single function, but the company as a whole that makes the difference, especially when the goal is to construct a distinctive, recognizable and recognized singularity on the market. A company able to create a dialogue and collaboration between different functions is also able to act on the determinant factors of Italian Excellence in a fruitful manner. The variables identified from observation of the cases in question are the following:
- Quality for quality's sake (not for profit). The management of Italian Excellence companies takes a long-term view. The production of a single year can even be sacrificed if it does not respect the high quality standards set by the company. Production is carried out "without compromise," the times of the production process are respected, no short-cuts are used to save time or money. Quality matters, not necessarily the profit that derives from it. The Gentile pasta factory, for example, respects the IGP specifications established for artisanal pasta. The quality of the grains and the drying time must be slow, and at low temperature.
- The importance of knowledge. There exists a transmission of productive skills that becomes essential. The ingredients, the raw materials are well-known, and this is whey they are respected as much as possible. Production processes are carried out based on the knowledge of the raw materials, and the know-how linked to the single process. Baratti & Milano, for example, selects the cacao from the start, in the equatorial countries of Central America and Africa. The company's technical personnel directly manage all of the phases of the work, choosing the best results of production. At Calvisius Caviar, they understand that the quality of the products depends directly on the wellbeing of the sturgeons. This is why the sturgeons are farmed in conditions as similar as possible to their natural environment, and respecting the rhythms of their growth.
- The link with the territory. Italian Excellence companies belong to Italian districts or territories dedicated to special types of production. The territorial link guarantees top quality ingredients and respect for production processes. To give an example, Livio Felluga founded the company that bears his name, the emblem of wines from Friuli, in 1956 in Cormons, and chose a label that recalled an ancient map of Friuli.
- The revival of history. Italian Excellence companies have a long history and are proud of their origins, which they consider a synonym of credibility and authenticity. History is drawn on for limited editions, some products recall historical products produced by the company years earlier. Allegrini, for example, a wine maker from the Valpolicella area, produced the limited edition La Grola. Thirty years have passed since bottle No. 1 of La Grola was produced. The first vintage of this great wine was produced in 1983 and marked the cultural and oenological rebirth of Valpolicella. On this important anniversary, so significant for its history, Allegrini decided to entrust the interpretation of the legend linked to this historic farm to the pencil of Milo Manara, among the most beloved Italian comic writers.
- The value of experience (lifestyle). The brand of Italian Excellence companies is linked to experience. In some cases, the companies have a hospitality section so that the consumer can enjoy a direct experience. The distinctive trait in this area is creativity, imagination, which passes through the creation of concrete experiences, though. Through the experience the good or service offered can be transformed into something aspirational. The Ferrari Spazio Bollicine wine bars come from the desire to bring Trentodoc to the symbolic locations of the art of Italian living, including the largest domestic and foreign airports. In some of the most celebrated locations in Italy it is possible to taste Trentodoc bubbles in dedicated environments such as prestigious hotels. The Illy Coffee University is a physical place where people live and learn coffee. Feudi San Gregorio links their products to the experience of the Marennà restaurant, that has had a Michelin star since 2009.
- The artistic vocation (beauty) An Italian Excellence company makes products that are aesthetically recognizable and artistic, articles able to combine not only good taste, but also beautiful and recognizable aesthetic form. The company seeks beauty inside as well, in the internal production processes (the machines, rooms, production areas and equipment are often aesthetically elegant). The companies collaborate with designers and the world of culture. Working on a specific type of product for each company is considered an art. At the Frantoio Muraglia, for example, Savino Muraglia, the company's managing director, had a successful intuition: package his olive oil in multi-colored ceramic jars that now represent a trademark recognized around the world. The jars that contain oil are all molded and decorated by hand. To do this, Muraglia uses master potters who have made ceramics in Puglia for five generations. The Ca’ del Bosco cellar - to give another example - opened a space dedicated to all those whose passion for wine goes along with a fondness for art: surprising sculptures set in landscapes, with the colors of bronze, marble, and steel. At Illy Caffè, the artistic vision is both inside the company, through the production of machines pleasing to the eye, and outside, with the Illy coffee-cup collection and a series of exhibits organized around the world.
So, perhaps precisely because we are analyzing the food & beverage sector, we come to a recipe made up of six ingredients that contribute to creating that kind of magic of excellent Italian companies. The effect of astonishment and wonder that these companies are able to create in the consumer and in the different countries of the world is not innate, but intentional, constructed with careful efforts, making use of some variables or determinant factors.
L. Carcano, G. Lojacono, Made in Italy industries: Managerial issues and best practices, Bocconi University Press, Mila, 2018.
C. Guerini, Made in Italy e mercati internazionali. La valorizzazione dell’origine geografica nelle strategie di marketing delle imprese italiane, Egea, Milan, 2004.
A. Illy, Il sogno del caffè, Codice Edizioni, Turin 2015.
Vittoria Veronesi is a Lecturer in Operations and Technology at the SDA Bocconi School of Management and Adjunct Professor of Innovation and Operations Management and Business Strategy in Creative Industries at the University of Bocconi; Guia Beatrice Pirotti is an Associate Professor of Practice of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the SDA Bocconi School of Management and Adjunct Professor of Business Strategy at the Department of Management and Technology of Bocconi University.
 The article in Il Sole 24 ore, "Cosa si intende nel mondo per italianità," from March 10, 2012, is available at the link: https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/cultura/2012-03-10/cosa-intende-mondo-italianita-131435_PRN.shtml