If there is a place where Grana Padano is one of the must of “Made in Italy”, it is New York. It is here in the “Big Apple” that Grana Padano’s internalization plan started thirty years ago. In fact, long before others, the Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano (the Grana Padano cheese Protection Consortium) understood the importance of a city like New York, an ideal place for communicating the “Made in Italy” concept at a global level. Fancy Food takes place in New York since 62 years. The most important Food & Wine show in the United States and deemed by the experts as the most important in the world. It is an understatement to say that the space occupied by Grana Padano at the Jacob Javits Center is one of the most visited during the fair. Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano represents 130 dairies distributed in the strictly defined production area, which consist of: Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, the province of Piacenza in Emilia and the province of Trento. Only milk from the production area is used to make Grana Padano. 25% of the Italian milk production is transformed into Grana Padano cheese. In 2015, over 4,8 million wheels were produced and 1.6 million were exported making Grana Padano the world’s best-selling PDO cheese. In its 2016 edition, Benvenuta Italia has had the opportunity and the pleasure of meeting with and interviewing the President of the Consorzio, Nicola Cesare Baldrighi. Baldrighi, a graduate in Agricultural Science from the Agriculture Faculty of the Cattolica University, is one of Italy’s most well-known entrepreneur in the food sector.
President Baldrighi, what are the guidelines that the Grana Padano Protection Consortium follows in such a hyper-competitive market as the USA?
The United States represents our second largest export market, with over 180.000 wheels arriving in the USA. Market research studies show that great margins for growth currently exist, making it still a strategic market for the Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano. We follow two strategies. The first is based on communication targeted and dedicated to the industry operators. Our constant work with representatives of gourmet cuisine and important chefs is an example for all. High class and gourmet cuisine is a vital way to inform and educate chefs and consumers by showing how versatile Grana Padano can be. We have a very close relationship with the Bastianich family, Lidia and Joe. Thanks to their extraordinary work, we have two great testimonials of our product in the USA. The second strategy concerns our direct communication with consumers, through the world of distribution, with presentations and tastings made directly in supermarkets.
In what areas of the United Stated of America do you see major space for Grana Padano’s growth?
The distribution is not homogeneous. There are areas, like New York, where the product is popular and used regularly and then there are areas where we have to grow in terms of communication, education and presence of Grana Padano in the shops. The difficulty of intervening in this market is, apart from the vastness of the territory, that the North American market is very varied. We work with communication targeted to each geographical area. It is very expensive and time consuming, but essential, in order to be efficient and reach the established target. The Protection Consortium tends to promote both the institutional aspect as well as the purely commercial aspect, therefore letting more and more consumers get to know Grana Padano.
Will we ever see “Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano” restaurants in the USA?
We must point out that the Consortium does not directly sell or market Grana Padano. On behalf of all the members, who have to be producers or agers of this cheese, we carry out two important functions. First and foremost, the quality control function, which is carried out directly in the farms and dairies and primarily foresees the control of raw materials, strict compliance to the Production Specification rules and the correct presentation of Grana Padano, particularly outside of Italy. The second function, which represents two-thirds of the Consortium’s budget, concerns the product’s communication and advertising. Therefore, I see the idea of branded restaurants as premature.
After so many years of communication dedicated the American Market, tell us how is “Made in Italy” in the USA?
Made in Italy in the US is good, but an important issue must be pointed out. One of the principal activities, of all of us operating in this sector, is to make the American consumer understand the difference between true Italian products and the so-called “Italian Sounding” products. In other words, products that sound Italian but are not! This is the great challenge. We are not here to discuss the legitimacy of who operates in this segment. It is only important that the American consumer understand that these are not the real products. They are different products, products that are NOT Italian! This distinction is often not very clear in the consumer’s mind. It is extremely necessary to inform the customer, who desires to know and learn about all the strengths and history of authentic Italian products, therefore the quality, the origin, the nutritional properties and the use of our products. One of our greatest challenges is to teach the American consumer about the nutritional and health properties of Grana Padano cheese.
For example, last May in New York, Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano was a key protagonist at the World Congress of hypertension. On this occasion, the “Unità Operativa di ipertensione dell’Ospedale Gulgielmo da Saliceto di Piacenza” (Hypertension Department of the Piacenza Hospital), guided by Dr. Giuseppe Crippa, and the Institut of Food & Nutrition Science of the “Cattolica” University of Piacenza, presented a clinical study that proved that the constant consumption of Grana Padano, aged 12 months, significantly lowers blood pressure levels. An extraordinary study that demonstrates how good and healthy eating “Italian” is. Eat Grana Padano!