At a time when government decisions can mean the difference between life and death, choosing what to eat can turn into a political act. We talked to "Gustiamo", "Manicaretti" and "Magnifico", three Italian companies for the distribution and sale of food online, which during the pandemic saw their business revolutionize. </p><div> <p style="text-align: right;"><em>In English</em>
The pandemic has turned the mere idea of going shopping into an atrocious thought. The claustrophobic corridors of supermarkets have become a nightmare, where meeting someone else would have been inevitable. Rendered videos explained how a contagious cough would linger in front of the bottles of sauce, lingering for hours, and travel through the shop.
In March 2020, the fear of leaving home to buy food started to spread, prompting Americans to buy everything online. According to a Brick Meets Click survey, online spending grew to $ 5.3 billion in April, compared to $ 4 billion in March. The demand grew so unexpectedly that it has become almost impossible to receive home deliveries from established online supermarkets such as Fresh Direct and Whole Foods.
In a time of collective fear, Americans began to amass food in their homes, buying anything that could help survival. The sudden change in demand has affected not only online supermarkets, but has also upset Italian companies specializing in high quality products.
“On March 15, our lives changed,” said Beatrice Ughi, founder of Gustiamo, Italian importer of high quality food products and online retailer based in the Bronx since 1999. “We have been working with e-commerce for 20 years, but everything has revolutionized and we were not ready. “
Before the pandemic began, half of Gustiamo’s revenue came from selling products to restaurants across the country. But when the restaurants closed, the demand dropped drastically: “from one day to the next, the sales to the restaurants went to zero”. Simultaneously, online sales spiked, leading to a crisis within Gustiamo, which suddenly found itself without inventory and staff to cope with the growth in orders. The whole team moved to the warehouse to prepare the parcels to be sent all over the country.
“It was scary at first,” said Rolando Beramendi, founder of Manicaretti, an importer of high-quality Italian food products based in San Francisco, which he sells to restaurants and retailers. “What happened to toilet paper happened to spaghetti,” he said, referring to the frantic rush to buy toilet paper. The loss of Manicaretti in restaurant sales was offset by retail sales and the e-commerce partner Market Hall Foods.
In 1988, Beramendi began to import Italian products into the United States that were then treated as ethnic food. He left filling his garage in San Francisco, and has since helped the West Coasters to understand what a good extra virgin olive oil, anchovy sauce or spelled was. “We respected the orders, but we felt the concern of the Americans,” confessed Beramendi.
“The $ 1,500 online orders sadly informed us that our American friends have been abandoned by this administration,” said the owner of Gustiamo. Chaos has reigned in the United States since the start of the pandemic, the infected continue to grow dramatically: 2.7 million people today are sick. Many Americans felt abandoned – they bought enough food to survive the crisis on their own.
The sudden increase in sales has shown the flaws of one of the oldest democracies on earth and has turned out not as favorable as it might seem for high-quality online food retailers.
Both Ughi and Beramendi have been in the sector for decades and have grown their companies organically, which means adapting slowly to changes and trying to gradually increase their market share. A market niche has been carved out in which the products must be purchased in Italy, shipped to the United States and then distributed. Each step is carefully adapted to American demand, because errors in logistics can result in unhappy consumers or boxes full of expired food in a warehouse.
“We had an inventory crisis,” Ughi said, while Beramendi explained that they had to rationalize orders. Both faced the unfortunate misfortune of losing customers due to “sold out” sites.
Fortunately, the logistics continued to work for both, and Italian manufacturers continued to send their products to the United States. The line between Italy and America remained open, helping both ends of the supply chain stay alive.
“Italy has had the good fortune, compared to other countries, to produce foods that are the basis of today’s American diet: olive oil, spaghetti, tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar,” said Beramendi.
However, a ghost worried both Ughi and Beramendi: the fear that the Trump administration, overnight, could impose restrictions on imports from Italy. Nobody actually knew what would happen, but the concern was strong. Every time a new container arrived, it seemed like a miracle to Ughi.
“We must maintain a connection between the Italian and American economies. Without us, Americans would eat worse. Without the Americans, I don’t know what would happen to Italian artisans, “said Beramendi.
In addition to disturbing the organic growth of small online businesses, the pandemic has proven to be an unexpected marketing tool. With the Italian restaurants closed, many people who had never bought from high-quality retailers learned to cook ancient Sicilian cereal pasta at home.
Alessio Gambino, founder of Magnifico, a new online retailer who started selling high quality Italian food products last October, said: “We have been benefited, I don’t like the term, from the lockdown. Our sales doubled in March and April, and stabilized in May. ” Many new customers have tried its products, and now Gambino is planning to double the availability of products on the site by the end of the year.
“Fortunately, the people who bought our products are eating well,” said Beramendi. “It’s a culinary pandemic!”
“There are few things in life that really matter, and one of them is the quality of the food you put in your body,” Ughi said.
At a time when government decisions can mean the difference between life or death, choosing what to eat can turn into a political act. “Your dollar is a political dollar, not only because you buy good food, but also because it is good for the planet, for culture, for the landscape, and I hope this will remain,” said Ughi, a strong supporter of Slow Food’s philosophy.
The products of Gustiamo, Manicaretti and Magnifico have a higher price, but they reduce the intermediaries who would further increase the final price.
“The digital disruption has allowed a fair income for the producer, and it has meant that American consumers don’t spend too much. Too many intermediaries bring no value to the consumer, “said Gambino.
Ughi hoped that those who tried their products during the pandemic understood their intrinsic value.
“They are products made without shortcuts and with the best ingredients. Food must cost the right amount. If it doesn’t cost the right, it’s a fake. Perhaps this period will lead to the rediscovery of the value and importance of good and quality products, “said Ughi.