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Zesty Italian frozen food packers adding value to tap larger market.

Zesty Italian Frozen Food Packers Adding Value to Tap Larger Market

Whether it's Italgel's Chef Gualtiero Marchese line or the Snackmania Finburger from Findus, convenience and quality are increasingly today's moving stock in trade.

The Italian economy is booming. Industrial production is up almost 15% and the service sector is growing at an even faster rate, with more men and women working. A new consumer is emerging, one more oriented toward convenience, but insisting upon quality. The frozen food scene in Italy is beginning to reflect that consumer's demands as per capita consumption is slowly rising, up from 5.65Kg in 1987 to 6.0 last year.

While the lion's share of the market still goes to locally produced bulk vegetables (52% of volume), snacks are holding second position. Crepes, French fries, pizza and like items continue to claim 17.7% of total sales.

The major manufacturers -- state-owned Italgel Spa and Unilever's Findus unit, which have more than 60% of the market between them -- cannot compete with local vegetable producers in pricing. But they can seek out the sophisticated buyers with products that are more exclusive, offering recipe dishes and not just commodities to middle- and upper-level consumers. Obviously these kinds of buyers can more easily be found in the large cities of the north than the underdeveloped south of Italy, where, in fact, there is a significantly higher percentage of distribution points. And naturally the urban consumer is more exposed to advertising.

Italgel introduced its Lasagnette Gualtiero Marchese MDNM with the idea of appealing directly to this new market. Gualtiero Marchese is the name of Italy's most famous chef, who is proprietor of the country's only three-star restaurant. The culinary artist has lent his name to a whole line of Italgel products, and the line has succeeded in attracting young urbanites who have little time to cook, but appreciate food with snob appeal. Lasagnette are small lasagna featuring a singular combination of vegetables to fill the pasta shells. Most Italians eat pasta almost every day, but few working people still spend the two to three hours required to make lasagna, so the product has an obvious attraction.

Italgel's Valle Degli Orti Contorno (Green Valley Vegetable Mix) is also being sold as a unique recipe. The offer of a combination of vegetables is intended to take the place of the ubiquitous mixed salad with oil and vinegar found on Italian tables. And to provide an alternative to the usual fresh fruit for dessert, the packer is offering a new frozen apple strudel.

Convenient Approach

If Italgel seeks to stimulate the consumer with recipes that go beyond one's usual pattern of consumption, Findus has concentrated more on the market for pure convenience. The Unilever company last year introduced typical TV snacks for children, I Pat' ABC FINDUS (potatoes shaped like the letters of the alphabet), to be deep fried in oil. Another new potato product, Pat Bon, is decoratively designed with legs and a chef's hat.

A significant new addition to the Findus Stuzzicomania (or Snackmania) line is the Finburger -- a small frozen hamburger sold in packages of four at 320 grams. The object of a considerable television advertising campaign, Finburger comes in three flavors formulated to give an Italian touch to an American product: herb, onion or tomato.

If Italgel is exploiting nouvelle cuisine, Findus did propose one traditional recipe in 1988: Whiting to be baked island style known in Italian as Naselli Goldosi All'Isolana. The fish is covered with an olive oil-based sauce, capers, breadcrumbs, lemon juice, olives and herbs. The product is marketed as Al Cartoccio, which means that the fish or meat is baked enclosed in a piece of oiled cardboard designed to retain natural juices. This traditional Italian procedure appeals again to the consumer who will not take the time to personally make such a complicated recipe, but who remembers that it was a family favorite.

Statistics from the Italian Frozen Food Institute show that FF consumption posted a healthy 5.8% gain last year, hitting 338,500 tons.

Although vegetables remained by far the largest single category, their increase was slightly less than the average: 5.4%, based on a tonnage gain from 166,080 to 175,320. French fries, by contrast, registered an 11.2% gain, from 32,230 to 35,780 tons, and other potato products also increased.

Frozen fish posted a relatively minor advance, 3.8%, to 41,120 tons vs. 39,640 in 1987. Frozen pizza showed less than a three percent gain, to 8.750 tons--no doubt fresh competition is just too strong. And dough, at 5,730 tons, increased at a faster rate than other finished baked goods, up slightly to 12,990.

Poultry scored a paper increase of 68.5%, but only because prepared chicken products were broken out as a separate category for the first time. This may mean that ready meals, credited with only a slight gain of less than three percent, to 15,150 tons, should be reckoned the star performer of the market -- 3,500 tons of the 12,800 tons listed for chicken are for prepared items. Frozen meat, at 12,120 tons, showed virtually no gain.
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Title Annotation:1989 Global Frozen Food Almanac
Author:Rosenbaum, Andrew
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Previous Article:European frozen food market up 4.2%, hurdling over six-million ton barrier.
Next Article:FRG frozen food consumers 'hot on ice' and warming to natural, full-value fare.

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