The month of April was full of events that celebrated the value of Italian industry. Of the National Day of Made in Italy, At the recently concluded Salone del Mobile, Italian industry was at the center of the global stage. Much attention is paid toItalian food industry. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the agri-food sector represent an important market segment, sought after for their expansion potential and the quality of their products.

The Italian food industry in figures

From ministerial sources we can thus summarize in figures, theItalian food industry:

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  • includes approximately 55,000 companies;
  • has a number of employees equal to 450,000 employees;
  • has an annual turnover equal to 145 million euros;
  • exports goods for 50 billion euros.

Imagine taking a photo and zoom in on the world of agri-food SMEs, the branch of companies that produce candies, sugared almonds and cocoa derivatives deserves special mention. Since 2022, exports of confectionery and ice cream have recorded a turnover of 9 billion euroswith an increase in value equal to +18%.

Three out of five small agri-food businesses are located in the South (33.6%) and the North-West (28%). Campania is the region in which the largest number of companies are concentrated (19.7%).

Market challenges for the sector

The Italian food industry is a booming sector. The products of this industry – whether crops, processed meats or products intended for mass distribution – are rarely subject to market crises. On the contrary: in 2023, 59% of Italian agri-food industry exports were absorbed by Germany, France and the United States.

The agri-food industry is a production sector that is not very digitalized: for this reason the Agriculture 4.0 plan has been developed. This paradigm, invented by experts from the Agricultural Technologies Observatory of the Polytechnic University of Milan, is developed with the aim of innovating in the production processes of the Italian agri-food industry. More precisely, Agriculture 4.0 involves the introduction of mechanics of precision, remote-controlled infrastructures, training in the use of innovative technologies.

Renewing and innovating production is not the only challenge facing the Italian agri-food industry on a large scale. Contribute to fight against food waste and creating sustainable cultures and products are the hottest topics to manage. In the first case, in Italy, the Food Bank has been active since 1989: in 2022 it has recovered 172,707 tonnes of food, recovered thanks to donations from industries or supermarkets. Sustainable supply chains are monitored by the Sustainability of Production and Territorial Systems Department of ENEAwith European programs aimed at improving the quality of supplies and the well-being of consumers.

The last challenge, but no less important than the others, is the defense of Made in Italy andItalian-sounding, that is to say all the typical productions of the Bel Paese, unfortunately often the object of pedestrian attempts at imitation.

Success stories from small agri-food industries

The funds necessary to carry out the transformations necessary to remain in the market are fundamental for the Italian agri-food industry. For this reason, small and medium-sized businesses may not have sufficient capital to cope with these changes. Yet success stories tell us that tradition, recurrence and seriality of centuries-old gestures are the keystone of the small Italian agri-food industry.

The most virtuous examples come from southern Italy. There are small family businesses, founded more than a hundred, even two hundred years ago, which produce licorice or sugared almonds.. Illustrious guests of the trade registers of the provincial chambers of commerce, these jewels of the small Italian agri-food industry tell us how important it is to cultivate the passion for traditional processing and testify how… sweet it is to create successful products.

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