“We have over 800 companies interested in this project, and we’re hoping for something of a ‘snowball effect’,” said director general of the Italian food industry confederation Federalimentare Daniele Rossi. “We should have an operational system in place in less than a year’s time.”
Support for manufacturers wanting to leverage the communication potential of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites will be focused at the level of category-specific industry associations, such as AIDI for confectionery and ASSITOL for edible oils.
“Up to now, the use of web portals has been a very passive form of communication,” said Rossi. “And there too, we are looking at optimising search engines.”
The confederation explained that these capabilities could be of particular value to small to medium-sized enterprises. Of its own membership of some 6,500 companies, Federalimentare classifies only around 30 members as large, around 250 as medium-sized, and the remainder as small or very small.
According to the UK’s FutureBrand Country Brand Index, Rossi said, Italian food was associated with goodness and health. “Food that is ‘Made in Italy’ is well-received overseas, and we have to develop a strategy to make the most of that advantage,” he added.
Federalimentare makes the point that such networks encourage valuable consumer feedback. They are also weighted towards younger consumers and ‘early adopters’.
While they facilitate communications with the substantial expatriate Italian community, in most cases this is unlikely to be the primary target.
The social networking project has been given the name Food Markup Language, in reference to codes such as HTML. Earlier this week, Federalimentare chaired a conference at Milan’s Bocconi Commercial University, designed to add momentum to the project.
Brands presenting their own experience of social networking included Ferrarelle (mineral water) and Hausbrandt (coffee).
Another brand which is seeing the benefits of these trend-setting networks is Turin-based Caffarel. The chocolate specialist, owned by Lindt & Sprüngli, originally responded to the fact that enthusiasts had set up their own Caffarel page on Facebook with a network of some 1,000 fans.
Last year, helped by its parent group which already used social networking, Caffarel closed down the unofficial page, opened up its own page, and took the fans along, too.
Now, the company uses Facebook to disseminate information but also for more sophisticated marketing. “Before Christmas and Easter we send some of our products to food bloggers,” said product manager Ottavia Pistone. “They are invited to create their own recipes, which they then post - along with photos - on Facebook.”
For the press office, it has had the added benefit of attracting the attention of some of the more trend-conscious media.
Pistone added: “Either you manage these websites well, following them everyday, or it can be worse than not using them at all.”