We all know how hard hit the food industry has been by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything from manufacturers and distributors, the import/export biz down to the small mom-and-pop food shops have been severely impacted by the virus.
When Italy’s crisis hit, and the country was essentially in a tight lockdown, lovers of Italian food worldwide started wondering: would we ever again taste the culinary riches this country produces? The rich, buttery Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the delicate burratas and flavourful prosciuttos and all that glorious pasta, not to mention the varieties of canned foods, oils, vinegars, sweets and chocolates the country is famous for. Would the store shelves be bereft of Italian products? And what about all those famous wines?
Canada has always enjoyed the fruits of Italy’s labour, but the recent global pandemic has changed the culinary landscape across the world. That said, Canadians can be assured their favourite Italian food products can still be enjoyed, with Italy’s collective food industry working overtime, on both sides of the ocean, to ensure the food products Italy is so famous for continue to arrive and be enjoyed.
In an interview with news.italianfood.net, Matteo Picariello, director of the Italian Trade Agency Canada assured Canadian consumers that they would continue to “appreciate the quality and safety of Italian food, despite shifts in demand caused by the coronavirus emergency.”
According to Statista.com, the COVID-19 coronavirus has impacted Italy’s 2020 food industry, with 78% of Italian companies in the food industry having to face a significant decrease in their orders. Statista.com reports the survey, conducted in March 2020, also revealed that the outsourcing of external services was difficult, with 25% of companies not able to find providers of external services, mostly transport. The cancellation of trade fairs due to the pandemic, which are crucial to the industry, also caused havoc with the Italian food industry.
But it continues to be strong, and hold its own, even during a crisis.
“The export business for food products from Italy is still healthy,” notes Patrick Pelliccione, president of the Jan K Overweel Ltd., famed food importers in Vaughan, Ont., and one of the country’s largest food importers. “Yes, products are still coming to Canada, (and) the Italian food manufacturers are still working to produce food products. All of our suppliers have excellent COVID-19 protocols in place to insure the food safety of the products that are being manufactured and shipped abroad during the COVID-19 era.”
Pelliccione, also co-president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario (italchambers.ca) says there’s a strong request for non-perishable goods such as pasta, dried gnocchi, canned foods, oils and vinegars, but the the fresh cheese products are temporarily halted as the products are transported by air, and flights have been terminated due to the virus.
But there is plenty of stock still available, including the iconic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, in high abundance and readily available due to its sturdy shelf life.
“Parmigiano Reggiano will never be missing on Canadian shelves, even in this difficult period,” says Nicola Bertinelli, president of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, who reassures fans they’ll continue to enjoy this iconic cheese thanks to the Protection Consortium, a protective body which represents the 330 Parmigiano Reggiano dairies located in northern Italy, and, in particular, in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. This is an area that has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to strict industry regulations (milk used in to the processing cannot be pasteurized, refrigerated nor centrifugated), the cheese producers continue to make the cheese. A stop in production would be a disaster for the entire industry, says Bertinelli.
“From the beginning of the health emergency, the European Authority for Food Safety clarified that that coronavirus does not spread through food,” said Bertinelli. “Consumers should not be afraid to buy Italian food. Parmigiano Reggiano is essentially produced like a thousand centuries ago: using the same ingredients (milk, salt and rennet), with the same craftsmanship and production technique that has undergone very few changes over the centuries.”
A visit to Eataly, the first-ever store in Canada which opened up several months ago in Toronto’s posh Yorkville neighbhourhood reveals plenty of Italian food products for people to shop. “Canada is “well stocked for any blip in the marketplace,” says Pelliccione, even though there has been a run on many canned products. “Generally most of the importers will hold about three month’s supply of their imported products factoring in lead time to get the products to Canada and the production time to produce the products in Italy.” Plus replacement inventory is taking longer because “Italians are concentrating on supplying their own marketplace first.”
As for the products destined for the Canadian market, “Italians are just starting to ship these goods.”
How long will it take for the Italian food industry to be up and running again? Pelliccione says, “The Italian manufacturers are resilient. They have never stopped manufacturing. They have to serve their own markets first which are going through the same demand requests that the Canadian marketplace is going through,” adding he anticipates the manufacturing sector to already be up and running. If there’s a slowdown, “it will be the government offices and the congestion at the ports to ship the goods abroad. ”
Pelliccione admits, “nobody anticipated the severity of the COVID 19 Virus, (but) exports are still flowing and the Italian government is making sure of it.”
MOST POPULAR EATS
What are the most popular Italian foods imported from Italy? Pasta, cheeses, tomatoes, deli meats (both cured and cooked), sweets (chocolates, panettone, savioardi biscuits, torrone, wafers, regular cookies), vegetables in tins, vegetables in glass under oil or brine (olives, sun-dried tomatoes, eggplants, antipasto, artichokes, etc.), rice (arborio and carnaroli rice), extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegars, and waters.