Being the 8th strongest economy in the world and the 3rd in the Eurozone is a position that doesn’t come easily, nor does it happen by accident. Today Italy is the first destination for Greek exports, namely f&b, raising the bar since it holds a very strong brand name of its own, with excellent quality products in many sectors, including f&b. Mr. Panagiotis Zaragas, Minister Counselor of Economy and Trade at the Rome Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs of the Greek Embassy in Italy talks to Ambrosia Magazine about the potential and what it would take to further expand the Greek presence in this very important European market.

Interview: Charitomeni Vonta

Please tell us a few words about our current commercial relations with the neighboring country.

Italy has established itself as our strategic economic-commercial partner and is indisputably registered as the first export destination of Greek products. In the historical path of our economic transactions with Italy, the bilateral trade relations confirm the “timelessness”, along with a distinctive, dynamic volume of our exports.

The cohesive elements of our close commercial relationship go back to the geographical proximity and continuity in the Mediterranean, the undisturbed bilateral social osmosis, the cultural and touristic contacts, facts that are based on a solid background of constructive bilateral political cooperation.

Our strategic bilateral economic relationship is reflected in the dynamic evolution of bilateral trade with a steady increase of 49.4% in the five-year period 2018-2023, from €8.5 billion in 2019 to €12.2 billion in 2023.

Italy in 2023, as Greece’s first export destination, absorbs product flows amounting to €5.9 billion, while Italian exports to the country approach €6.8 billion, a favorable dimension that reflects our clearly balanced balance with Italy, with the deficit constantly decreasing (2023: €900 million).

We highlight the strong specific weight of the agri-food sector with an emphasis on f&b, covering progressively in 2021: € 1.8 billion or 29.69%, in 2022: € 1.4 billion or 25.59% with a peak in 2023: €1.9 billion or 32%, a size corresponding to 1/3 of our total exports. The bundle of products includes, for 2023 (CN2), edible fats and oils (14.08%), fish (4.99%), milk and products (4.39%), cereals (2.73%).

Could you please share with us some practical strategy guidelines to enter the Italian market?

As in every market, the Italian has its own “secrets” that importers need to consider before entering. The following, in bullet points, are key, at least for an initial entering approach.

*Company website in Italian language

*Thorough market research

*Highlighting distinctive quality characteristics of the products in question

*Product adaptation to consumer preferences and habits

*Approach consumer groups – targets

*Search for a competent on-site partner

*Selection of the suitable distribution channel

*Build a relationship of trust

*Consistency in quality, delivery times and quantities

How accessible can an f&b product be in the Italian market?

The Italian market has the background and all related characteristics of being the 8th strongest economy on a global scale and the 3rd in the Eurozone, with a range extending to 60 million people, and an additional 65 million tourists, figures that speak volumes about its high absorptive capacity in quality food products.

The remarkable purchasing power is an essential parameter, with a per capita GDP of €33,261, along with the fact that consumers are familiar with Greek culinary products, given the massive tourist stream of 1.8 million (2023) Italian tourists in our country. The framework and possibilities for expanding our exports in the field of food and beverages are clear and given.

The proximity and similarity of agro-food products of Greece and Italy does not necessarily act as an inhibitor, given the familiarity and quality preference of Italian consumers in relation to the wider culinary field and the Mediterranean Diet (related culinary/consumer pattern).

At the same time, however, the elevated quality standards, the strong standard brand name (“Made in Italy”) and the regional market structure irrefutably dictate the coexistence of both quality and competitive prices.

Photos from left to right: Opening event of the new headquarters of the Greek group Mytilineos/Metlen (Milan, 27.05.2024) / Presentation at a speech by the HEA

The Italian f&b commecial map

·       Strong regional dimension with 20 Regions

·       Differences in purchasing power between North and South

·       Fragmentation of distribution networks

·       Large number of supermarket chains, with limited presence in a number of regions and not on a national scale

·       Placing a product in a supermarket chain does not self-evidently mean entry into the domestic market as a whole

·       Strong range of International Exhibitions with significant traffic: Tuttofood, Cibus, Vinitaly, etc.

What would you say are the opportunities or/and challenges behind the promotion of agricultural products?

It is not disputed that we have a wide range of high quality Greek agri-food products. Some of the key strategies to be implemented when a brand wants to enter the Italian market is to have a distinct design of the Greek brand name with accompanying promotion strategies, widening the participation of high added value products or/and ingredients (e.g. standardization versus bulk distribution, promotion of PDO/PGI), while focusing on them.

The focus and use of targeted cooperative schemes, followed by the organic interconnection of agro-food sector with the triptych of high gastronomy, tourism and culture is another key decision to be made, along with the participation, both individual and sectoral, in international exhibitions, business missions. Last, but certainly not least, the intensification of targeted display and promotion actions (e.g. advertising, social media, events etc).

What would your predictions be, concerning Greek f&b exports in Italy?

The Italian market is clearly an attractive field to grow Greek exports in the food-beverage field. Our significant range of penetration dictates the adoption of a coordinated strategy with escalating targeting and implementation of accompanying actions.

It is advisable to focus on products with a quality label (PDO, PGI, organic) and a structured targeting of placing them in fields of distinct culinary reference, which constitute evolutionarily the most dynamic field of Italian nutritional consumption.

The Rome ECA Office places a strong focus in its interventions at conferences in Greece, on informing Greek exporters, but also assists with supporting actions in the promotion of Greek food and beverages in the Italian market. The depth and breadth of our bilateral strategic economic relationship, geographical proximity and mutual familiarity are exceptional advantages, elements that act as catalysts, so that our products enjoy a favorable reception in the Italian food scene.

In conclusion, we estimate that, subject to the fulfillment of the aforementioned conditions, it is possible in the next three years for the food-beverage sector to approach 40% of our exports to Italy, achieving, at the same time, the perception of “Made in Greece” as an upgraded quality recognition.

Greek Embassy in Rome

Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs

Viale Rossini, 4, 00198, Rome, Italy

Tel.: (+39) 06 85375550, 53