Unity is strength: what Associations do to promote pasta manufacturers

7 January 2014 Off By Pastaria

The activities of pasta manufacturers associations to promote the companies operating in the sector continue non-stop. This article presents the most recent initiatives and future plans of AIDEPI, APPAFRE, APPF, IPO and UNAFPA.

During times of crisis, most entrepreneurs tend to isolate themselves. The temptation to concentrate on accounts, production and financial flows leads operators to focus their attention exclusively on their problems with a view to overcoming them. They fear that the slightest distraction could have fatal consequences for the company and this induces them to work alone. Nothing could be worse! Market conditions like those currently existing should lead to the sharing of problems with colleagues, in the hope of finding a common solution. Better still if this sharing were to take place under the umbrella of a trade association expressly founded for the purpose of eliminating the obstacles that prevent companies from operating well.

The association concept is a valuable resource that is not only relevant to the enterprises that join an employers’ organisation, but to the country as a whole. It is a fundamental added value and defender of economic, social and human principles. The employers’ sector, in all its shapes and forms, has contributed efficiently ever since the aftermath of World War II to growth in our country and now, more than ever, it should provide a reference point for enterprise. At a difficult time like this, the associations should be able, first and foremost, to fulfil the task of helping the enterprises survive the crisis, also by convincing entrepreneurs to adopt the vision of a common solution. But precisely because the period is difficult for everyone and because the fate of the confederations is closely linked to that of the companies, the world of associations is also experiencing a dramatic moment. The current economic downturn also has repercussions on the organisations founded to represent and protect entrepreneurs. So being at the service of enterprise in times like these requires an extra special effort. The associations are operating under difficult conditions at the moment but they never fail to exercise their role to the best of their ability. Now more than ever entrepreneurs need a reference point, a prop, initiatives that open up new prospects. Taking a positive and constructive stance and convinced that it is precisely during difficult times such as these that it becomes vital to do more and better, the employers’ associations spring into action with renewed vigour, proposing initiatives of all kinds, and projects designed to protect and promote the companies that they represent.

For example, APPAFRE (Italian Association of Small/Medium Fresh Pasta and Gnocchi Manufacturers) founded in 2002 and a member of CNA Alimentare (the leading association for SMEs in the Italian food sector) for 10 years now, has signed a four-year agreement with the Host exhibition in Milan, which will place at the Association’s disposal a large fully-equipped area for training and for the artisanal pasta school during the event. It was during the last edition of this event that APPAFRE presented its first DVD totally dedicated to fresh pasta that contains a video entitled Fresh pasta evolution. The film, made with highly professional tools and methods, highlights, with images and illustrations, the specific characteristics of this delicate product. The video, filmed with the aid of a director, portrays the workshops of member companies and supermarkets, takes viewers by the hand and accompanies them along a virtual path, enlightening them on each single phase of pasta production. It then proceeds to the transportation of the product, to the shop shelves and finally to the table of the end user. This was a way of enticing the various buyers, who then had the opportunity to discover the secrets and virtues of high quality fresh pasta. A great deal of literature is available on dried pasta but the material available on fresh pasta is still very limited. This is what prompted APPAFRE to take this action, in an attempt to close this major gap. “The current period is very tough for the associations because it is a tragic time for business in general. Organisations like the one I represent instantly feel the impact of economic downturns like this, because their survival and activities are directly linked with those of the companies” says Fabio Fontaneto, president of APPAFRE. “Not only is it a difficult moment because the financial crisis looms over us like an unscalable mountain, but also because entrepreneurs are so focused on the emergency that every initiative that we try to launch is considered as a distraction that they cannot afford. The paradox is that, at the very time when everyone should unite under the aegis of the organisation designated to protect and represent them, exactly the opposite occurs: companies go into isolation, focusing only on their own problems without considering the possibility of sharing them, given the fact that these problems are common to everyone. This phenomenon places the associations in serious difficulty but, of course, they shouldn’t become discouraged. Quite the opposite. APPAFRE is carrying out initiatives that are useful but which do not distract entrepreneurs’ attention from their companies. We try to occupy as little as possible of their time, but we are always there, at every moment, to support them”, adds Fontaneto.

These difficult times do not seem to have discouraged even the top management of Aidepi, the Italian Association of Confectionery and Pasta Industries, which today represents the pasta sector and another five product groups which contribute to making “Made in Italy” products prestigious in Italy and throughout the world. This year too, the association, which is a member of Confindustria, has organised promotional activities but it has also been involved on the food standard front, urging the competent authorities to launch the reform process laid down in Italian Presidential Decree 187/2001. Bringing this provision into line with the sector’s working practices is, in fact, a priority for AIDEPI, and will continue to be so in the future. In the meantime, also thanks to insightful awareness-raising initiatives launched by Aidepi, as of October 2012, it is now possible to market pasta in packages with non-standard weights.

Internationalisation, considered in the past as an additional opportunity for enterprise, has now become a necessity. The exportation of pasta now represents a stable growth factor for the sector. Developing a cooperation culture is undoubtedly more efficacious than facing new markets totally alone.

In this regard, Aidepi is particularly dynamic. “Our efforts are mainly directed at supporting internationalisation,” declares the lawyer, Luigi Cristiano Laurenza, secretary of the Aidepi Pasta Makers and secretary-general of Unafpa. He elaborates: “the association is strongly committed not only towards promotion, by implementing actions to be conducted in a systematic manner in trade exhibitions and other contexts, but also towards foreign trade. In this sphere, we propose eliminating any obstacles that could impede our companies from penetrating foreign markets, and creating favourable conditions for exportation, also providing the companies with any necessary information on the countries of destination. For this specific purpose we have created an “internationalisation task force” within the Association, geared to pursue these goals and, more in general, with the primary aim of conveying the values of an important product such as pasta. A few months ago, during the Food Hospitality World fair in Bangalore, India, a group of associated companies was set up and assigned the fundamental task of promoting the culture and tradition of Italian pasta. In that occasion, we organised tasting sessions, show-cooking, business matching and training sessions especially for sector specialists, directly involving buyers and visitors and ensuring that the Italian pasta makers – united under the umbrella of the association – could underline the power and the potential of a product that is still quite a novelty on the Indian food scene. This initiative was boosted by others, focusing on countries in which our entrepreneurs nurture a particular interest”, concludes Laurenza.

Aidepi is however, very active also on the communication front. In addition to the routine monitoring activities and media relations, over the past months it has also launched the “We Love Pasta” campaign and produced films in cooperation with a number of celebrity endorsers, to which a strong solidarity action has been combined, with the distribution of over 12 tons of pasta to charity organisations suggested by the aforementioned endorsers.

Similarly to AIDEPI, ever since it was founded in 2005, Ipo (International Pasta Organisation) has set itself the goal of promoting and spreading pasta culture and consumption throughout the world. Satisfied with the forward leaps achieved by the organisation led by him, the secretary-general Raffaello Ragaglini points out how “thanks to a network which already numbers 25 members representing 18 countries and two European organisations (Unafpa and Semouliers), we guarantee the coordination of the international communication actions to promote and protect pasta and its image. Trusting in the growing support of our members, we intend to continue, with ever increasing determination, along the path we have forged, upholding the principle that pasta, in addition to being tasty in its simplicity, is an economically accessible, nutritionally valid and sustainable food choice”.

For this reason, IPO will proceed in 2014 to consolidate its promotional campaign at an international level, also developing its presence on social networks through the use of digital tools such as Twitter (Intern Pasta Org), LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook. Also under construction is a new web site to back up the institutional web site (http://www.internationalpasta.org) that will have a more consumer-oriented format and the following address: http:www.pastaforall.org.  Moreover, the communication activities on dietary education and promotion of the nutritional characteristics of pasta will continue, in cooperation with its own Scientific Advisory Committee, composed of authoritative nutrition experts from 16 countries, with the publication of informative materials and the organisation of events. In particular, two major projects are currently under study: the first refers to on-line seminars on the nutritional properties of pasta and the second to the organisation of a scientific conference in 2015 for the purpose of updating the Scientific Consensus Statement on Pasta, signed in Rio de Janeiro in 2010, at the IV World Congress on Pasta.

These issues were discussed in the course of the Ipo Board Meeting held in Lisbon on 8 June. They were then taken up again and further developed, along with other activities of interest to the organisation, during the last national assembly held in Istanbul on 25 October, on World Pasta Day 2013.

Still on the international scene, let’s have a look at the most recent activities of Unafpa, the organisation composed of unions of enterprises from the pasta sector of twelve European countries, Aidepi included. Unafpa too is constantly committed to guaranteeing that pasta manufacturers are fully represented at an international level, by interfacing mainly with European institutions and organisations. Recently, the Union has been working towards extending its own representativity, reinforcing the activities already underway and making the voice of the pasta sector heard by the European institutional authorities. Its activities have always, also in previous years, revolved around food legislation. The norms and regulations of primary importance for the pasta sector are, in fact, constantly monitored by Unafpa and its members are periodically updated on any important legislative developments. Among the most important issues arousing the recent interest of the association is Regulation (EU) no. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, which will come into force as of 2014. The association’s activities are not limited to the institutional perspective, but also involve the market.  In fact, over the last few months Unafpa has organised meetings with sector specialists in order to monitor developments regarding important issues for the food industry more closely. Reports of these meetings are punctually drawn up and distributed to shareholders through a periodical newsletter. Future activities will involve the promotion of commercial initiatives such as B2B on which the attention of the association will be increasingly more focused.

Appf, the Italian Fresh Pasta Producers Association chaired by Giovanni Rana in his final year of office, is, on the other hand, heavily involved in concluding the action aimed at the issuing of the long-awaited Italian Presidential Decree 41/2013 prescribing the lowering of the sterol-egg conversion factor, to the immense relief of pasta makers who consider this review of the quality contents a real breath of fresh air at a difficult economic time such as the present. But for every battle won there is another still to be fought, that of the amendment of article 12 of the same decree which dictates the methods for marketing and exporting food-grade pasta produced in deviation of law 580/67. Since it would appear that this amendment is not immediately forthcoming, pasta producers will continue to submit – at least for the time being – to the prolonging of a deleterious practice which – although devised as a noble attempt at simplification – has actually complicated life for businesses rather than improving it.

But APPF will not only be involved on this front in 2014; it will also continue to strive for the codification of potato gnocchi. The associated producers cover approx. 80% of the national market and at least 65% of the European one, so Appf’s intention is to give corpus to this sector. “If not vertical legislation – held not to be practical in a European context – at least the granting of a definition that clearly distinguishes refrigerated gnocchi from those stored at ambient temperature is necessary and urgent. Of equal importance for us is the protection of the name “potato gnocchi”, a typical Italian product that is presently under attack on all sides, both in Italy and abroad.  The number of times that this name has been abused at national and international levels are now too numerous to count.  Even fresh food products made with only flour and water are labelled as being potato gnocchi, to the detriment of the consumer but also of companies who operate in a conscientious manner” points out Justo Bonetto, secretary-general of the association. APPF has been fighting a battle on this front for some time now, and it has achieved its first result: the dual definition of potato gnocchi and fresh refrigerated potato gnocchi in the so-called Descriptors, as an addition to European Regulation 1133/2008. Appf has been strongly committed to this throughout 2013 and will continue to work for it in the year to come, bringing the issue also to the attention of the Ministry of Agriculture. But relations with the Ministries should not end here. The association will shortly be presenting to the Ministry of Health a request for the elimination of sorbic acid and its salts (E200, E202 and E203) from the fillings of ravioli and similar products, since these are no longer used in the pasta industry.

Since APPF, like all the other employer organisations, never limits itself to working at a legislative and trade union level only, the organisation led by Bonetto is planning the third European conference on fresh pasta and gnocchi to be held in the opening months of next year. As per the previous editions, it will be an important event with a technical slant and will be attended by sector specialists only. Speakers will include Kaarin Goodburn, manager of the Chilled Food Association in the UK.

This and other activities will be carried out in 2014 to promote pasta makers in Italy and the rest of the world. The intervention of manufacturers associations is continuous and fruitful, even when their actions may seem to have been in vain. The actions taken and the results obtained testify to the fact that this is by no means the case.

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