‘Sim­plic­ity of Ital­ian food’ to get theme-park treat­ment

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - HEALTH - COLLEEN BARRY BOLOGNA, ITALY

The man be­hind the Eataly food em­pire is open­ing a mas­sive at­trac­tion – part per­ma­nent trade fair, part agri-food theme park – that aims to cre­ate a show­case for ex­cel­lence in Ital­ian food.

Eataly’s owner, Os­car Farinetti, hopes Eataly World, open­ing Nov. 15 in Bologna, will boost tourism and even food ex­ports. The ex­pe­ri­ence is de­signed to in­crease de­mand for Ital­ian food along with brand loy­alty and con­sumer in­ter­est in the 150 or so food busi­nesses rep­re­sented.

Eataly al­ready has nearly 40 stores world­wide, the new­est one in Los An­ge­les. The com­pany in­tends to list a 30-per-cent stake on the Mi­lan stock ex­change in 2018 or 2019.

Vis­i­tors to Eataly World can fol­low food pro­duc­tion from field and stall right to their plates. They’ll see grain grow­ing in the fields, milled into flour, pro­cessed into pasta and served at the ta­ble. Work­shops will show how to re­fine rice and hunt for truf­fles, along with cook­ing classes for mak­ing fresh pasta, sor­betto or pizza.

Eataly World in­cludes 47 restau­rants and bars, some 40 pro­duc­tion ar­eas mak­ing ev­ery­thing from gelato to can­died fruit, 22 gar­dens and half a dozen stalls with cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chick­ens. The site, cov­er­ing more than one mil­lion square feet, is a for­mer whole­sale fruit and veg­etable mar­ket on the out­skirts of Bologna.

Farinetti wants to do for Ital­ian food what Mi­lan Fash­ion Week has done for Italy’s ready-to-wear in­dus­try: cre­ate a global show­case for ex­cel­lence that stim­u­lates de­mand across the sec­tor.

“I hope that this be­comes the most im­por­tant place in the world for who­ever wants to study food, eat well and un­der­stand the his­tory of food,” Farinetti said dur­ing a pre­view this week. “In this, we need to think big, like in the fash­ion world.”

He said his goal is to show­case “the sim­plic­ity of Ital­ian food.”

“Ital­ian cook­ing, un­like that of the French, was cre­ated in the house. It was in­vented by our great-great-great-grand­moth­ers. Since it was born in home kitchens, it needs to be sim­ple. But it is dif­fi­cult to be sim­ple, be­cause it needs to start from the earth, and you need to have healthy soil, with very lit­tle chem­i­cals,” he said.

Eataly re­ported a loss of €11-mil­lion ($16.4-mil­lion) in 2016, down from a profit of €713,000 the year be­fore, as rev­enue dipped 15 per cent ow­ing to stronger com­pe­ti­tion and the end of a boost from the Expo 2015 world’s fair. The com­pany hopes new stores and greater ef­fi­ciency will re­store prof­itabil­ity.

Its Ital­ian name, FICo, stands for Fab­brica Ital­iana Con­tad­ina, or Ital­ian Peas­ant Fac­tory. The acro­nym has a dou­ble en­ten­dre: Fico means fig in Ital­ian, or cool in Ital­ian slang.

Fabrizio De Filip­pis, a pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­ture pol­icy at Rome’s state univer­sity, praised the ini­tia­tive as a first to bring to­gether Ital­ian agri­cul­ture, the pro­cess­ing in­dus­try, gas­tron­omy, com­merce and tourism.

“It is ex­actly the in­car­na­tion of this ca­pac­ity to put to­gether these var­i­ous pieces, which in the past didn’t have much love for each other,” De Filip­pis said.

Farinetti is aim­ing for six mil­lion vis­i­tors a year, half from abroad, for Eataly World. Its 150 food busi­nesses rep­re­sent the best of Ital­ian re­gional food, such as seafood from coastal Ri­mini and lamb skew­ers from south­ern Puglia. Farinetti hopes vis­i­tors will want to travel to those places to ex­pe­ri­ence the ori­gins of the food they’ve sam­pled at Eataly.

“If we want to dou­ble tourism, we need them to go to the prov­inces, which are won­der­ful. We can’t have them just go to Florence and Venice, which are al­ready packed,” Farinetti said. “I would like them to see where things are cre­ated. The val­leys of Tag­gia, that marvel, and all its olive-oil presses. I would like them to go see the pasta mak­ers of Grag­nano, south of Naples. We need to con­vince the tourists to come see the Po Delta, Sa­lento, the lakes, Arab-Norman Palermo.”

Food and agri­cul­ture con­trib­ute €187-bil­lion a year to Italy’s econ­omy, or more than 11 per cent of GDP. The food in­dus­try has func­tioned as a driver for eco­nomic re­cov­ery, with ex­ports in the first six months of this year grow­ing by 11 per cent, ac­cord­ing to the Coldiretti agri­cul­tural lobby. Ger­many, France and the United States are the top three mar­kets.

I hope that this be­comes the most im­por­tant place in the world for who­ever wants to study food, eat well and un­der­stand the his­tory of food. In this, we need to think big, like in the fash­ion world.

Os­car Farinetti Owner of Eataly

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