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Italian agrifood exports are a fast train: what a growth in the last decade

Ismea analysis: exports from 33.5 billion in 2013 to 60.7 billion in 2022. Bottled wines lead in terms of value

A sector worth a treasure. It is the Made in Italy food & beverage industry that does not seem to know any setbacks. Over the past decade, the value of food and beverage exports has almost doubled (+81%), rising from 33.5 billion in 2013 to 60.7 billion in 2022. In practice, as shown in the Ismea analysis (presented online in a talk “The Global Challenges of Made in Italy Agribusiness”), shipments of agri-food products have increased in value at a rate of nearly 7% per year, compared with a smaller increase in overall exports (+5.4%). The sector not only proved to be more dynamic, but also more resilient when, in 2020, with the outbreak of the pandemic, related health restrictions, and disruption of global supply chains, it still managed to post growth (+3.2%), bucking the trend on the rest of the economy (-9.1% contraction in overall outflows). Of the 24 commodity sectors that make up total trade flows, just six of them (beverages, cereal derivatives, milk and dairy products, vegetable and fruit preparations, fruits, and other food preparations) capture more than two-thirds of the total value and individually weigh more than 5% of total exports.
Growing the most over the 2017-2021 period were “other food preparations” (sauces, gravies, soups and ice cream, +9.1% annual average); cereal derivatives (+7.8%); and milk and dairy products (+8.2%). Below average, however, was growth in fruits (+1.2%), vegetables (+4.1%) fruit and vegetable derivatives (+4.9%) and meat (+2.5%). At a more disaggregated level, the Report analyzes a group of twenty distinctive Made in Italy products, which, with nearly 28 billion euros, accounting for 53% of the total value of agribusiness exports in 2021. The top five in terms of value, Ismea explains, are bottled wines, dry pasta, processed tobacco, aged cheeses, and bakery and pastry products (specifically represented mainly by anniversary cakes and pizzas). In the five-year period, in addition to processed tobacco (+30%) - whose strong growth is due to a 2016 trade agreement between the Italian government and a Japanese multinational company - waffles and wafers (+16%) and stuffed pasta (+11%) stand out for the highest growth rates; but also grated cheese, fresh cheese and dairy products, and pastry and bakery products, with increases of more than 9%. Data from the last two years provide interesting and partly unexpected insights.
In 2020, despite the almost complete closure of Horeca channels around the world, exports of some domestic agri-food products grew a great deal over the previous year: changes in pasta, rice, tomato purees and pulps, but also in oil and fresh cheeses, show that the consumption abroad of Made in Italy food is not only linked to special occasions and meals out, but is now part of daily habits in many areas of the world.
More tied to the fortunes of Horeca and convivial occasions, and thus penalized in 2020, were exports of bottled wines, sparkling wines, aged cheeses, mineral waters, coffee, and to a lesser extent bakery and confectionery products, but all in 2021 recovered the previous year's loss. Also in 2022, pasta, fresh and grated cheeses, peeled tomatoes, pulps and purees, rice, coffee, mineral waters and sparkling wines are among the products with the largest increases in exports, with value changes ranging from +19.4% for sparkling wines to +38.4% for pasta, and positive changes in exported quantities as well.
A success that knows no boundaries as confirmed by the growth in the distance traveled by our food and beverage exports. Again according to an Ismea analysis, our shipments travel an average of almost three thousand kilometers, an increase of 8% in the last ten years, a sign of a slight growth in exports to more distant markets.
Weighing the kilometers traveled for the different destinations with the flows in value, it then emerges that, among the 20 distinctive Made in Italy products, those that go the farthest are: tobacco, with almost 8,000 kilometers traveled, due to the prevalent Japanese destination under a specific trade agreement, followed by peeled tomatoes and pulps (4,850 km), wines, preserves and pork preparations and sparkling wines (all above 4,000 km), cheeses and pasta (above 3,500). At the bottom of this particular ranking, however, are mineral waters, rice and waffles, which reach closer destinations.
Although the European Union remains the main outlet market for domestic agribusiness, demand from countries outside the European continent is becoming increasingly dynamic, with the U.S., Japan, Canada, Russia, China and Australia together now concentrating nearly 21% of the value of our agribusiness exports.
Scrolling down the top 5 of Italy’s main customer countries, in first place, there is Germany, with 8.6 billion euros in 2021 and a 16.8% share, followed by France (5.8 billion and 11%), the United States (5.6 billion and 10.6%, respectively), the United Kingdom (3.7 billion and 7%), and Japan with 2.3 billion in export value representing 4.3% in 2021. All of the top 20 outlet markets saw significant, double-digit increases between 2017 and 2021, with, in particular, shipments to Japan, Poland, and China growing at a rate of more than 11% per year (+14%, +11.4%, 11.3% average annual change over the five-year period, respectively). In addition to seeing its weight in overall domestic exports grow, Made in Italy food and beverage exports are also gaining ground in the sector’s global trade.
As the Ismea analysis shows, Italy’s market share has been growing for ten years now, rising to 3.25% in 2021, after the minimum level of 2.8% in 2012. An increase that is only apparently modest, since it is the weight of a single country on the world’s food trade, and that hides behind a few decimal points of growth a major progress, the result of consistent increases in our export flows in absolute value.
Narrowing the observation period to the last five years, there has been an increase in the degree of penetration of Italian products in the top 20 markets globally, although there has been a decline in the Chinese market, which is the world's largest importer. More in detail, made in Italy agribusiness can count on a higher penetration (over 8% in 2021) in the markets of its traditional European partners, and followed by the United Kingdom, Poland and Spain. An above-average share (3.25%) is also recorded in 2021 in Japan, Belgium, Russia and the United States, compared to a still very low level of penetration in Asian countries, especially China, Indonesia, Vietnam and India, where we do not reach 0.5%, as well as in Mexico.
If, on the other hand, one shifts the focus to the twenty most representative products in the Made in Italy basket, Italy’s market shares are in all cases high, sometimes very high: they range from products such as peeled and pulped tomatoes and pasta, for which Italy is the absolute world leader, satisfying 85% and 46% of world demand, respectively, to products for which our country is among the world leaders, with shares between 20 and 40 % such as stuffed pasta, processed tobacco, tomato purees and concentrates, sparkling wines, mineral waters, extra virgin olive oil and bottled wines. And still categories with high average market share (between 11 and 16%) such as fresh cheeses and dairy products, roasted coffee, pork preparations and preserves, waffles and wafers, apples and chocolate, and products with lower, but still above-average shares, such as wines in packages of more than two liters, aged cheeses, table grapes, bakery and pastry products (in particular these are recurrence cakes, pizzas, croissants ...), and milled rice. In the 2019-2021 period, the improvement of the Italian market share is mainly due, according to Ismea’s analysis, to the ability of the Italian agrifood system to better exploit its competitive advantages, in terms of prices and attractiveness of exported products.
Participating in the webinar, organized by Ismea for the National Rural Network, were Maria Chiara Zaganelli, managing director Ismea; Fabio Del Bravo, rural development services directorate manager; Luca Giavi, director of the Consorzio di tutela della Doc Prosecco; Sandra Sangiuolo, export marketing manager Conserve Italia; Massimiliano Del Core, president Ortofrutta Italia; and Antonio Galtieri, vice president Assalzoo and director Specialmangimi Galtieri Spa.

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