In the first seven months of 2012 Italian food exports in Southeast Asia have nearly achieved 205 million Euros of share, with an increase of 15.5% over the same period in 2011. If we consider only Asean countries (acronym for Association of South-East Asian Nations, a sort of common market of the area, established in 1967, which includes: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia) growth is even higher, up to 30%. Just to make an immediate comparison, Italian exports to Asean are almost equivalent to those towards China: 120 million Euros from Asean and 142 million from China. The Asean Region is currently one of the most dynamic areas in the world and of continuous economic development, both in terms of percentages and growth volumes (5% annual average growth of GDP and 3500 billion USD in 2011), not considering the great audience of potential consumers(600 million of total population), with a growing average income. In particular, Thailand is one of the most promising countries: in the first seven months of 2012 on this market, export has achieved 31.6 million Euros of share, an increase of +31.1%, while in 2011 Italian food exports on Thai market reached a share of 46.3 millions, with an increase of +26.2% on the previous year. The prospects of a strong increase in the export of made-in-Italy food products are supported by economic growth expectations processed this year by Ocse: for the next five years Laos will have an annual average growth of 7.4%, Indonesia 6.4%, Vietnam 5.6%, Philippines 5.5%, Thailand 5.1%, Malaysia 5.1%, Singapore 3.1%, Brunei 2.4%. Even countries that have recently faced critical situations, such as Cambodia and Burma (Myanmar) are expected to grow 6.9%, respectively, and 6.3%.
There are several Italian food products that may be interesting for the countries of South East Asia. In addition to “classic” pasta, olive oil, canned tomatoes, wine, cheese, canned vegetables, there are chocolate and coffee, thus demonstrating that mid-high consumers begin to discover and appreciate Italian products. Markets are hungry for made-in-Italy products, but Italian companies must face some difficulties. There aren’t few obstacles: customs barriers, religious customs, lack of know-how about richness and quality of Italian food production. Cold cuts, for example, have little success in these markets, for religious and taste reasons (with the exception of quality hams). Food tradition is important because on average an Asian consumer painfully digests casein contained in fresh cheeses (he prefers hard-mature ones like Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano) or tannins of red wine. Curiously, he is interested in renowned Italian Mediterranean diet and in important brand products that are famous throughout the world. Therefore, greater promotion of our food products is necessary, always combined with information (about their history, their territory of origin, production methods, intrinsic qualities, and nutritional values). In many of these countries, pizza, for example, is experienced as an American product, given the widespread distribution of frozen pizza that is made in Usa. The best quality of Italian frozen pizza could be promoted, illustrating the technologies that allow making a good product, as well as the all-Italian story of pizza.
Italian companies are helped in successfully exporting their products in Southeast Asia by several institutions through various promotional activities. The Department for the Internationalization of the Economic Development Ministry is planning several interventions with extraordinary funds (“Made in Italy” Projects) and focused on promoting the image of Italian style in the ASEAN countries, particularly Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Myanmar, with a greater economic budget than the past. Promotional activities: exporting missions, seminars, congresses, country presentations, networking events, business to business meetings, communications and other events, with particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises in their efforts to internationalize on these markets. For 2013 the Ministry is also defining a unique promotional project aimed at supporting the diffusion of Halal, Kosher and Bio certifications, information and training for Italian companies that are interested in markets where such certificates are required. In addition, concerning South Korea, which represents one of the largest States in the Southeast Asian Region, the Ministry will devote to this Country a promotional project concerning exports of agri-food products and cosmetics, especially organic ones, in order to increase the role of Italian SMEs even on that market. Also ICE Agency for the promotion abroad and internationalization of Italian enterprises is operating, as it has programmed several interventions in the region: from Collettiva Food & Hospitality China held last November in Shanghai to next Hofex 2013 to be held in Hong Kong in May, with other 11 important initiatives that will take place in the same geographic area. Also Federalimentare and Fiere di Parma are cooperating together and in synergy with the Ministry and ICE agency, as demonstrated by the initiative “Cibus Export Seminar – Focus Asean & Sud Est Asiatico” held last November at Fiere di Parma, focused on trade exchanges and strategies for expanding the export of made-in-Italy food. The event was attended by institutional representatives, food companies and 13 distribution buyers from South East Asia who discussed with Italian companies about the chance of making trade agreements. Federalimentare, Fiere di Parma and Koln Messe have co-organized in May 2013, the most important fair of the area: Thaifex of Bangkok. Italian companies can compete with the potential of a market that is still partly unexplored and with great potential. As for promotion Emilia-Romagna region is particularly active; it is the only region that has established an Export and Internationalization Committee, with a three-year promotional schedule in 2013-2015 period, called BRICST PLUS that will involve not only Brics Countries but also Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico.