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Allegrini 2018
THE POINT

The Italian agri-food industry, between sales in large-scale distribution, quotations, and markets

The boom of purchases in large-scale distribution (+11% last week), the milk chain (and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese) is suffering, serenity is back in

Italy begins its second week of stop, a “break” from the normality that has plunged the country into a situation never seen before, at least since the Second World War: closed shops - except grocery stores and pharmacies - deserted streets, production levels reduced to a minimum, numbers of people infected by Covid-19 who continue to grow, but also the hope cultivated within the walls of the house, where life goes on, between aperitifs in video chat with friends more or less distant, and the hours spent at the stove. Because if the applause louder goes to the overtime work of doctors and nurses, to ensure all of us life as normal as possible is the activity, which has never stopped, of the food chain: the campaign goes on, as well as the work of the food companies of the Belpaese and, to close the circle, that of Gdo.
As it is easy to imagine, in a dramatic moment for the Italian economy - and beyond - it shows all its anti-cyclicality, told by the numbers of Nielsen, a global company for measuring and analyzing data: despite the queues, lines in Milan, outside supermarkets, often reach two hours, in the week from 2 to 8 March, compared to the corresponding week of 2019, “large-scale sales mark a + 11% in value for the same number of shops”. The market is driven by the South of the country, as happened last week: + 20.9%. Followed by Center (+ 12.9%), North West (+ 7.9%) and North East (+ 7.5%). Considering the two weeks, from February 24 to March 8, Nielsen indicated an increase of 11.4% compared to a year ago. At the level of distribution formats, analysts point out, the biggest trend is recorded in discount stores (+ 15.4%) and supermarkets (+ 15.4%), followed by free services (+ 10.1%). But the real boom was recorded by the e-commerce of food products: in the week analyzed by Nielsen “online sales of consumer products increased by 82.3%”. A figure that “is in line with the trend of the previous week”, when the fear of a health epidemic had just started in Italy.
“Also last week the race for Italian purchases continued. Even in the days preceding the decree of 8 March, large-scale retail sales grew at a rapid pace and then exploded on Sunday following the new restrictive measures”, comments Romolo de Camillis, retailer service director of Nielsen Connect in Italy. “The growth in sales testifies, for the third consecutive week, the availability of products on the shelves and the organizational capacity of the consumer goods chain to deal with the exceptional situation”.
A dynamic that, in Italy and now all over the world, also has consequences on the lists of goods of agricultural and food raw materials, as recounted by the analysis of BMTI, the Italian Chamber System company for regulation, development, and transparency of the market and for the dissemination of prices and economic information, which is headed by to the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. Thus, among agricultural commodities, fears of a sharp slowdown in world demand are affecting oilseeds, with strong falls in soybeans on the main international markets, including Italy. However, exchanges are confirmed limited also for rice, while the first fears related to difficulties in the supply of corn from abroad are registered, and the basic grain market remains static, with limited demand and uncertainty on the future trend of demand. Pork and rabbit prices are on the rise, with the forced closure of restaurants weighing instead on the prices of cuttlefish, squid, anchovies, pink shrimp, prawns, falling, with surplus supply and limited demand. Then spring products such as artichokes, asparagus, and strawberries arrive on the market, with rising prices.
On the other hand, given the sharp price drops, the dairy sector is worrying, with the first signs of crisis. The issue raised by Cia-Agricoltori Italiani, which explains how dairies begin to slow down processing and ask farmers to decrease production, mainly due to the closure of canteens and bar and restaurant channels, a direct consequence of the new containment measures, asking Italian companies to cancel foreign contracts and buy from Italian farmers, as well as citizens to buy fresh Italian milk. Regarding the Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano, to safeguard the production of its 330 dairies, addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture and the EU the request for “a derogation from the specification, as required by law 1151/2012 which regulates the PDO in case of health emergencies, to allow greater flexibility in processing times and restrictions to avoid the closure of dairies and farms”. Also by increasing critical issues regarding the availability of staff due to the increase in infections, which has led the Consortium to create a database of retired cheesemakers and former production workers who can be called up by dairies in difficulty.
Problems that, in the future, could also affect other supply chains, especially those most exposed on foreign markets. From which come positive news: the Undersecretary for Agricultural Policies Giuseppe L'Abbate has made it known that the situation on the Polish front - where only three days ago the local distribution chain Zabka (3,000 stores in the country) had announced the stop to the agri-food imports from Italy - has changed, and “both the local food distribution chain Zabka and the French Carrefour have declared that they will continue to supply food and wine products from Italy. No cancellation of orders from supermarkets in Poland, therefore, although - adds Undersecretary L’Abbate - the situation begins to be complicated also in the other States where, in the face of the widening of the contagion, the same decisions already implemented in Italy will be taken”. By now, we are faced with a pandemic, concerning which, explains Abbate, “discriminatory behaviors implemented, as well as the request for a “virus-free” certification, represent unfair commercial practices, prohibited by EU and national regulations. Even EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, reiterated that there is no evidence that agri-food products are sources or means of transmission of the virus: therefore, any discrimination against Italian food and wine products is devoid of scientific and unacceptable basis”.
The controversy with Slovenia has also been resolved, which will admit the crossing of the border of trucks from Italy, given the temperature control of the transporters. Meanwhile, measures, necessary to defeat the Coronavirus, decided by Italy, have also been married by Spain and, partially, by France, where restaurants and bars will remain closed for the next few weeks, while tourism - and the economy linked to it, which in Italy is worth 10% of the GDP - it is practically paralyzed everywhere.

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