Voices 13/06/2014

Italian Brand Amdassador Award, an Italian shame

The storm of Nicholas Blechman’s comic strip hit Italy a little over three months ago, causing three weeks of protests, outraged newspaper headlines, and a massive uproar.

But as soon as the dust settled, everything returned to just as it was before. In reality, as far as we’ve been able to find out, the return was already being planned well in advance, and in secret, by the industry’s power brokers. There are rumors, as yet unconfirmed, of a committee formed by ICE – the Italian Trade Agency tasked with promoting and exporting Made in Italy products - in New York  immediately after the publication of Blechman’s comics, whose goal was to find responses to the attacks made by the New York Times. A committee headed by Colavita.

This committee’s creative energies have brought about the birth of the Italian Brand Amdassador Award, which is given to American firms and personalities that distinguish themselves in spreading the word about Made in Italy. The award is sponsored by Emirates Airlines, Colavita USA and Monini North America.

Therefore, foreign olive oil businesses that, in the USA, mostly sell olive oil from around the EU – not just Italian oil – sponsor a prize for spreading the good word about Italy? And ICE lets them do it? In fact, ICE pockets their money and thanks them?

What this means is that we haven’t understood one thing about the meaning of Blechman’s denunciation. Or that we don’t want to understand. Or that we just don’t give a damn.

My outburst isn’t directed at Monini or Colavita, who have taken advantage of the opportunity to stress their “Italian-ness” on the New York stage. Rather, it’s against organizations and public figures who, apparently, continue to repeat the same old errors.

In additionto frauds and other somewhat surreal accusations, Blechman denounced the generalized confusion about just how Italian olive oil in America really is. Whether the label says “Made in Italy” or “Product of Italy,” that oil is Italian for the average American consumer. Which is clearly not the case, but so it seems, and that’s sufficient to penetrate the appetizing US consumer market – in an entirely legal manner, of course.

In response to this, what does Italy do? Does Italy organize a widespread publicity campaign to teach American consumers the difference between oils imported into the USA by brands like Monini and Colavita, and extra virgins made by Italian olive growers and oil millers?

No. Italy does exactly the opposite.

What’s more, if we wanted to be a little cynical, we might look more closely at the prize given to the supermarket chain Kroger, accepted by vice president Mel Bomprezzi, considering that we’re told Kroger is an important business partner of none other than the sponsor, Colavita. But let’s assume this was purely a coincidence.

My hope was that the Italian government, at least, wanted to clear up the difference between “Made in Italy” and “Product of Italy,” all the more since the banner on ICE’s international website says very plainly, “The Official Portal of Made in Italy.” Yes, I guess I’m still very naïve….

di Alberto Grimelli

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