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Italian wine, exports at +188% in 20 years. There are many future challenges, in a complex scenario

The decline in consumption, geopolitics, duties, “health warnings” and the EU elections, in the Federvini General Assembly today in Rome
Italian wine, exports at +188% in 20 years

A few days before the European vote, the world of Italian wine is wondering about the numerous challenges it will have to face for a future that is already present, among well-known and global-scale problems that seem to become structural, decline in consumption and climate change, but not only. And it will have to do so without falling into a “great depression”, also thanks to some data showing significant growth that has spanned the last few years. Numbers are always important, even more so for a dynamic sector such as the wine sector which in Italy is worth 21.5 billion euros in turnover, 2,600 companies, 30,000 employees and 21% of Italian food & beverage exports. An export that in 2023 came close to 8 billion euros, almost in line with 2022, closed as a record year. But what is most striking is the performance recorded in the last twenty years: in 2003 Italy was a leader in 9 countries covering 17% of global exports, in 2023 it leads in 46 countries reaching 22% of the overall share. A virtuous path that has brought it closer to France (which went from having leadership from 41 to 51 countries, but with a value of world exports that dropped from 38% to 33%) and which, translated into other figures, means +188% of export value in the twenty-year period, with exports accounting for 50% of the turnover. Statistics that smile on the sector and that also “embrace” the spirits and vinegars themselves, a growth that can be defined as vital and which counteracts internal consumption which has fallen in a structural way. But the sector is grappling with crisis scenarios that impact the trade of the product even outside its borders, and therefore international tensions, “health warnings”, and without forgetting the demographic issue with a country that is aging and with wine that fails to find the right harmony with the new generations. Nonetheless, “away from home” continues to rhyme with socializing in front of a glass and good food, for Italians, but the wine competition has increased, and, not surprisingly, occasional consumers are increasing, while, at the same time, the usual ones lose ground. And with the average age rising, the forecasts do not seem rosy, unless there is a change of pace which can also be given by an appeal and a more effective language towards young people. Topics discussed in the Federvini General Assembly, on stage today in Rome at the presence of the institutions and important Italian producers of a sector that has indisputable relevance.
At the assembly we spoke about the implications of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, the prospects of the conflict in the Middle East, the fears of new trade duties applied in retaliation, a therefore critical scenario for supply chains, such as those represented by Federvini, which see export as the main lever for growth and value creation. For this reason, for example, the achievement of free trade agreements with new partners, on the basis of the positive experience of the Ceta defined with Canada (for Italian wines a growth rate of +7.6% in the period 2018-2022 compared to +3.7% in 2013-2017, while the sector of aperitifs, bitters, liqueurs and spirits made in Italy jumped to +13.1% compared to +2.9% in the previous period), remains a fundamental prospect for support free trade and quality productions such as those in which Italy is a recognized leader. This perspective translates into an appeal from the Federvini system to the current Italian presidency of the G7 to interpret the need to prevent commercial disputes originating in other sectors from having repercussions on agri-food production. But Federvini also appeals for a new Europe, because it is in the Old Continent that much will be written about the future of the sector: from the initiatives on “health warnings” in Ireland and more recently in Belgium (currently “frozen”, at the revision of the packaging directive, the legislation on labeling and the Regulation relating to Geographical Indications, numerous issues have affected Federvini’s departments during the five-year legislature just ended). Dossiers with an obvious impact, “which at times did not take into consideration not only the economic, but also the social and cultural value expressed by businesses and wine, spirits and vinegar production. “The new European Parliament that will emerge from the polls - is Federvini’s hope - will demonstrate a realistic approach, guided by the consideration of objective elements with a view to a balanced promotion of the productive components, starting from employment and the economy of the territories, attentions that characterized the closing parliamentary mandate of numerous Italian representatives”. However, exports will be the key to structural growth in the sector. According to data from the Federvini Observatory, in collaboration with Nomisma and TradeLab, the export of Italian wines has seen significant growth in the last 20 years, going from a market share of 17% in 2003 (with France at 38%) to 22% in 2023 (the Transalpines instead fall to 33%). A result which allows Italy to consolidate, thanks to the overall +188% in export value, second place in the world, and which takes on an even more extraordinary character if we think of the increase in markets in which Italy expresses a position of leadership: 46 against 51 in France (twenty years ago it was 9 against 41). Positive evidence also on the spirits front: in the last 20 years, according to Nomisma, exports have recorded an increase of 300% for a value of 1.7 billion euros (today Italy is the fifth top global exporter). The positive trend in cross-border sales is confirmed for the vinegar sector (+180% in value over the last twenty years). In general, also in consideration of a structural decline in internal consumption, exports take on a strategic character, representing a turnover of 50% for wines, 35% for spirits and 48% for vinegars.
And then, as mentioned, there is “away from home” which is growing and which probably compensates for a change in habits that sees the “sacrifice” of dinner as a classic moment of meeting at the table. According to data provided by TradeLab, the vast majority of Italians see “away from home” as an opportunity for conviviality and sociability, 80% choose to drink mainly during social occasions accompanied by food spread throughout the week, with 27 % say they always consume the same type of drink and 40% who make their choice based on the particular occasion of consumption. 95% of the sample interviewed consume alcoholic beverages in company, a habit that confirms the factor of sociability as a decisive element in consumption choices. A trend that sees the evening aperitif as a clearly growing phenomenon, with 14 million Italians organizing it on “away from home” occasions, for a total turnover of 4.5 billion euros.
In a turbulent context like today’s, the future necessarily also depends on supporting the principles and values of responsible and moderate consumption which find their best expression precisely in the style of the Mediterranean Diet. A unique wealth in the world of which Italy can become an ambassador in the world also to the benefit of the European dimension as a whole, highlighting its own virtuous model which must be promoted at an international level. Important, according to Federvini, will be the Onu political declaration on non-communicable diseases scheduled for next year in New York.
“We are going through a year full of novelties and changes - declared the president of Federvini Micaela Pallini - first of all the now imminent European elections and, in the autumn, the United States presidential elections. In the meantime, geopolitical, commercial and economic tensions risk impacting the activities of fundamental supply chains for Italian agri-food. Our companies are doing a lot to maintain their production capacity, I am thinking for example of investments in internationalization, research and sustainability. There is no doubt, however, that to face the scale of international challenges there is a need for certain rules capable of ensuring clear and free competition on the markets, which do not give in to neo-prohibitionist tendencies and which overcome the retaliatory logic of duties which in the recent past they have unfairly penalized us”.
Regarding the new European Parliament, according to Pallini, “the new structure of the community institutions that will be defined after the June session will be a determining factor for the orientation of the policies that concern our sectors, from labeling to the protection of typical products, up to competitiveness. In this sense we hope that the next European legislature will be able to keep the bar straight as those Italian European parliamentarians to whom we owe so much for their commitment and achievements in these five difficult years have been able to do. The hope is that the new legislature can also count on women and men capable of listening and discussing with the production categories, equipped with a rational vision and respectful of the specificities and value expressed by strategic supply chains not only for the national economy, ready to build bridges and alliances between the different nationalities and political families that make up the Strasbourg hemicycle”.

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