ITALY. "The whole structure of the fruit and vegetables industry needs to be redesigned." That was the stark warning given by Italian industry body Coldiretti at the most recent Macfrut international trade fair, held in October 2011 in Cesena. Coldiretti chairman Sergio Marini believes the industry in Italy can no longer bear distribution costs that are twice as high as its main rival Spain’s - especially when production costs are about the same in the two countries.
Italy remains ahead of Spain as Europe's leading producer of fruit and vegetables. Its 300,000 businesses produce around 25 million tonnes of fresh and processed products every year, which is nearly 30 per cent of all European production. These businesses generate annual revenues of €11bn, according to figures from Coldiretti.
Combatting the counterfeiters
"The industry has structural weaknesses," says economist Gianluca Bagnara, who cites, among other things, a surfeit of intermediaries, low added value and not enough investment.
Traceability is particularly important in such a climate. Consumers' demands for quality products and better food safety are a step in the right direction, as is the need to protect Italian producers from the counterfeiters who have infiltrated the food industry. With this in mind, in June 2011 Coldiretti held the first 'fraud fair' with a view to highlighting the counterfeit produce that is harming Italian food products' reputation for excellence.
In 2010, 115 million kg of tomato purée (which is 15 per cent of annual production in Italy) were imported from China - with no quality guarantee - to use in saucesthat were then exported as Italian produce because they were prepared in the country.
In January 2011, the government implemented a law extending the obligation to state on labels the geographical origin of many food products, including processed fruit and vegetables and all tomato-based products.
Wireless technologies can accelerate the path to traceability
The University of Bologna has begun an international research project on traceability in the food industry with a view to identifying areas for improvement throughout the logistics chain (WFSC).
New wireless technologies, such as RFID, should speed things up, according to the second report on food traceability in Italy, published in 2010 by Cedites and Aton. The frequencies used for RFID tags have been freed up and the major logistics platforms are getting themselves equipped.
The system will be tracked from production to consumption to provide all the necessary geopositioning information and to ensure that the cold chain is not broken. The major supermarkets are leading the way, but processors, producers and transportation firms will have no choice but to join them by 2014, according to the authors of the report.