Parmigiano Reggiano and the United States market: clearer regulations would increase exports by more than 50 million euro

Nicola Bertinelli, President of the Consortium, speaks at the Convention on “Produzione alimentare e sfide del commercio internazionale” (Food Production and the challenges of international trade) in the presence of Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament and Luigi Scordamaglia, President of Federalimentare.

Parma, 25 September 2017 – Nicola Bertinelli,  President of the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium, spoke at the convention on “Food Production and the challenges of international trade” held today in Parma, in the presence of Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament and Luigi Scordamaglia, President of Federalimentare, with the attendance of many important food companies.

The Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Consortium shared a few points about the USA market, the number one market for exports of the King of Cheeses: more than 10 thousand tons exported, which amount to 250 thousand wheels, worth more than 110 million Euro.

Recently, there have been a lot of discussions about CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada), pointing out the positive aspects - such as the protection from imitations similar to the one the European Union law grants - and the limitations of the agreement, which still does not sufficiently protect Italian products, allowing them to coexist on the market with their imitations” said Nicola Bertinelli.

I would like to take this opportunity to focus, not so much on these different opinions, but rather on the path the Consortium needs to undertake across the Atlantic to enhance the product and develop the market, considering that the elimination of duties will make our exports grow considerably. Our efforts shall concentrate on explaining to the US market that there is no other cheese similar to ours. Parmigiano Reggiano can only be produced here: it is the creation of this land, of the know-how of our people, handed down from generation to generation. Nothing has changed in nine centuries: same ingredients, same care and passion, same area of origin, inseparably tied to the product. Unfortunately, in the United States, protection of geographical indications does not exist. Still today, the word “parmesan” is understood as a generic term. Our objective shall be to demonstrate that the word “parmesan” is an evocation of the Parmigiano Reggiano designation and that using it for cheeses not compliant with our production specifications violates our Protected Designation of Origin. It will not be an easy battle, but we have important judgements on our side, such as the one of the European Court of Justice vs. Germany, which ruled that the use of such term for cheeses that do not comply with the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO specification represents a violation of the European law”.

In the USA, the Consortium has registered “Parmigiano Reggiano” as a certification mark and, thanks to this, it can protect the product by monitoring the market and starting legal actions. In spite of poor protection and unfair competition from parmesan and Italian Sounding products, our exports have increased significantly up to 110 million Euro.

In recent years, the Consortium has been working on resolving these matters, highlighting commercial practices that are misleading for consumers. A recent study, carried out on 1,200 American consumers, demonstrated that, for 66% of respondents, the word parmesan was not at all generic – contrary to what the American dairy industry claims – but rather it identifies a hard cheese with a precise geographic origin that 90% of respondents indicated without hesitation to be Italy.

During the study, the respondents were shown two packages of made-in-the-USA parmesan, one with no elements recalling Italy, and the other characterized by identifiable images of the Italian tricolour flag. Even when shown the former, 38% of consumers indicated the product as a cheese of Italian origin, but the results were definitely more serious for the packaging characterized by “Italian sounding” elements (the tricolour flag or Italian artworks): in that case, 67% of American buyers said they were convinced to have an authentic Italian product in front of them.

These results have given us food for thought and are driving the Consortium to press lawmakers for concrete actions.

Clearer and more transparent regulations would allow us to considerably increase the size of our market. We estimate the growth to be about 120,000 wheels, worth more than 50 million Euro – continued Bertinelli. The Consortium will continue to do its part, spreading the product culture and carrying out monitoring activities. However, to reach our objectives, we need the help of lawmakers. We must work on negotiations aimed at the recognition of geographic indications as global values for agricultural development. Regulations able to eliminate practices that are misleading for consumers, in particular the use of geographical names, images and brands evocative of Italy to advertise products that have absolutely nothing to do with our country, the most shameless form of unfair competition and fraud to consumers in the agri-food sector” concluded Nicola Bertinelli