Allegrini 2018

The US market, fundamental for Italian wine, according to ICE director Laspina

Ice director in NY said Italians are “excellent at intercepting and satisfying changes in habits and consumption before and better than others”
Antonino Laspina, director of ICE in New York

Italy is once again the number one exporter of wine to the United States, and its numbers confirm it. However, 2020, unavoidably marked by the Covid-19 Pandemic, has meant significant changes in consumption habits as well as in consumer audiences. Nevertheless, Italian wine has been able to respond to these changes earlier and better than its competitors, definitely facilitated by the duties that have been imposed on French and Spanish wines. But, there is more, and much of what the wine sector has accomplished in 2020 will also be carried into the future. Further, it will be played on equal terms, in a Country that will celebrate both its own history and the end of the Pandemic on July 4th; at least those are the intentions of the Biden Administration. Antonino Laspina, director of the Ice - Institute for US Foreign Trade in New York, presented the picture of the situation, which is in continuous and rapid evolution, and undoubtedly positive in the United States, to WineNews when they met during one of the events organized overseas by IEM - International Exhibition Management, run by Marina Nedic and Giancarlo Voglino.
“The year 2020 marked a definite standstill for global economy, and had heavy repercussions on the purchasing power of the American people. The economic downfall is due to the crisis in the production, food, catering and services sectors, which also generated negative aspects for Italian exports. Activities such as catering”, emphasized Laspina, “have suffered a substantial slowdown, but, we can say that Italy has paid the same price as its main competitors, and in fact it has shown a slight growth in food, even though there has been a slight loss in the wine sector. We must remember that this has nevertheless allowed us to regain our position as the leading exporter on the American market, once again, outdoing France”, pointed out the director of the US ICE.
Looking at the numbers of Italian wine,
“the final figure for exports to the US market in 2020 presents a series of aspects that need to be examined. One of the positive ones is duties and tariffs that hit our competitors, Spain and France. I believe, though, that Italy’s ability to recover positions even while suffering a decline is a demonstration of resilience; that is to say, the ability of the Italian product to find new distribution channels and new American traders, who though faced with the challenges others encountered, opted instead for the Italian product. Certainly”, continued Laspina, “digital has helped immensely, because it has allowed wine, no longer available in the restaurant channel, to arrive directly to the tables of Americans. And here is where the ability of the Americans to change habits swiftly has also helped a lot, because going out to restaurants has not been a possibility. Domestic consumption, as a matter of fact, has grown considerably, and we think that this could mean a profound change, which may not remain entirely in the habits of Americans, but it will be a component that Italian companies will also have to take into account”.
Regarding the controversial question of duties, “they certainly have contributed to maintaining the leadership positioning of Italian wine”, explained the New York ICE director, “but I believe that the range of the Italian offer, and therefore the ability to cover this change in consumption habits, have proved to be pluses, and have also provided us with indications on how to promote Italian wine and on which groups of consumers to focus in the future. A note from the Administration”, said Laspina, “has now eliminated duties for four months on a series of European Union products, including wine. Therefore, the games have begun again on a market no longer conditioned by duties, and we are going back to natural competitiveness”.
A new phase is opening, a return to normality, which for Italian wine represents “a challenge, because it is a question of competing again on terms and conditions equal to 2019, when, anyhow, Italian wine had registered positive performances. So, these are the conditions to strengthen already excellent positions. Further,” Antonino Laspina warned, “it is an opportunity to be seized, because loyalty of new consumers and traders, although short-lived in this Pandemic year, becomes a vital opportunity for Italian wine to give continuity to new market segments, to new opinion leaders as well as opinion makers. It is an invitation for us to operate strategies on the public and private systems that bring these new consumers that we know have been there, closer and more loyal. We must take advantage of the opportunity to explore new consumer groups and new territories as well, because the next challenge will be to identify new consumers for our wine in territories that up until now have not been considered wine consumption areas”.
The focus then shifted to the cornerstone of the ICE activity in the US and around the world, namely promotion activities. “In 2020, we were not able to carry out events in person, so everything went through the digital channel”, explained Laspina. “We organized many webinars and video calls, with which we provided assistance to Italian companies that also involved activities and events on digital platforms where we facilitated meetings with buyers and b2b meetings. We also held refresher seminars on the very strict regulations in place, especially for the wine sector, illustrating the complexity of the wine distribution mechanism on the US market, including the differences that exist from State to State. These were very critical elements, in my opinion, in terms of updating for our companies, because it is evident that when we are finally out of the tunnel”, underlined the director of ICE in New York, “and we will be able to start in person events of our companies, again, especially the small and medium-sized ones, which are increasingly interested in the US market, it will be essential to recover and strengthen competitiveness on the market. We therefore used this period to educate the American market and our businesses. At the same time, we have organized b2b events which, in the absence of visits to exhibitions in Italy and events here, have allowed Italian companies to cultivate contacts on the US market”.
The sentiment overseas is one of trust, “especially in light of statements issued by President Biden and his Administration, who have put in place an extremely effective vaccination campaign. They have scheduled July 4th as the date of liberation from Covid-19. It will be a joint celebration, which means that the confidence to immunize the American population is very high, and therefore, so is the possibility that economic activities will restart”. The reason for this is because, concluded Antonino Laspina, “catering activities in many States, if not fully recovered, are very close, re-activating a mechanism for all retail activities. This leads us to trust in the fact that over the next three months, if not normal, it will be a condition in which some economic players will be able to recover, maybe not all, but almost all of the business they lost due to the Pandemic. The return to normality, in catering, will also mean a return to an essential social life that will open the way to all Made in Italy products, primarily food and wine”.

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