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Italy: Producers and retailers need to work together

"We need to question many of the choices made so far and reconsider the concept of chain - habits and techniques can change to meet consumer needs. Consumers don't always look for the lowest price, they often just want a good product at a fair price."

This is according to Claudio Mazzini, sales manager for Coop Italia, who has the experience of an agronomist and of someone who has worked as a technician for years. He therefore knows everything about the pros and cons of the production sector and cares about the income of suppliers, whom he visited for many years and advised on how to produce high-quality goods using sustainable techniques.

What is your opinion about the quality/price ratio in the fresh produce sector?
I think consumers want to eat a good product. We are all consumers, we are all looking for satisfaction at a fair price. It's true, people manically looked for the lowest price a few years ago, but things have changed.

What do you mean?
Having said that the fresh produce sector is the only one questioned every day at each purchase, the share of consumers looking for the lowest price is 15-20%. The remaining 80% looks for something more, and we need to be able to provide it. But it would be useless if only one ring of the chain did it: we need to work together.

What do you ask producers?
We ask them to invert the trend. I mean, we have created the existing mechanisms together, I'm not accusing producers of anything. We are all responsible and this is why we need to change things together. Having said this, we ask producers to grow fruit varieties that taste good and that are not just edible. But a good variety is not enough: it needs to be harvested well and not too many tons per hectares need to be produced. Then we need to be capable of promoting them with dedicated ranges such as 'Fior Fiore'. For example, Tarocco oranges sold under our 'Fior Fiore' brand do cost 50 eurocents more per kg but are selling very well, also because 50 eurocents does not make that much of a difference to most consumers.

Is quality perceived as essential?
Yes, and I'll tell you more. The tomato segment is actually losing popularity. We are selling fewer tomatoes and I believe it's because we often sell tomatoes that have no flavour. We need high-quality produce and we need to reward it more.

Loose or packaged fruit?
Retailers have taken the wrong decisions for years: we sold the best and juiciest fruit loose, therefore ruining it and sold smaller, hard, grade-B nectarines in punnets. I think the best thing to do is to do the opposite and I also think the trend is going in this direction. In addition, the packaging can be used to provide information about the product. It would be useless to promote grade B nectarines.

But hasn't everybody always said that customers purchase with their eyes?
It's not true or, actually, it's no longer true. People now want products that are nice to eat. That's why quality needs to be constant. We are all responsible of putting appearance and firmness first, as it was easier to manage everything. But we need a better balance to increase consumption.

What do you think about Fruit Logistica?
The fair is still growing and I've seen lots of new products. Producers can increase their income only by presenting new solutions and methods. I have also noticed how the Spaniards, South Americans and other nations attend as countries, while we Italians don't. I think we should promote our Italian productions as a nation rather that have single companies just promoting themselves.

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