When Food Is an Icon

When Food Is an Icon


by Guia Beatrice Pirotti, SDA associate professor of practice
Translated by Alex Foti

Italians like to eat well without giving up domestic specialties such as pasta, pizza or coffee: this is a fact. Italians also like to discover and immerse themselves in the spirit of other nations. How can you put the two together? The brands imported from other countries, and in particular those in food & beverage and restaurant chains, posed themselves the question when they decided to open shop in Italy. Think, for example, of Starbucks, Domino's Pizza or McDonald's. One thus wonders about the mix of strategies and ingredients enabling such a move, that is, to import into Italy - home of traditional recipes and good food - brands conceived in countries having different tastes and flavors while still managing to make them iconic. There are three basic steps.

First of all, quality and adaptation of the product. There are certain critical success factors which cannot be ignored. In Italy, quality counts: a coffee must be a good coffee and a pizza a good pizza. This means that, very often, it is necessary to make product adaptations that take into account the specific preferences of the country's customers. At Starbucks Italia we find traditional espresso coffee, while the starred mermaid's partnership with Princi makes it possible to associate typical Italian pastry and bakery products with coffee. In the case of Domino's, the pizza recipe was designed specifically for the Italian market, with a product in line with tradition and ingredients including mother yeast made from durum wheat flour used in the Altamura bread from Apulia. Even McDonald's, the brand considered an emblem of globalization, has worked on local adaptations. Adjustments have been made through the years to adapt to local tastes: from the collaboration with chef Gualtiero Marchesi to the introduction of pasta salads, up to the most recent inclusion of Nutella spread over bread. On the website there is also a section with the indication of all the Italian products used in the recipes listed under "Italian quality".

Secondly, the experience linked to food is important, so consumers embrace representative international products. If a certain adaptation of the product becomes necessary, it is also true that certain representative products international brands allow the consumer to have a fun experience. For example, Domino's legends such as pizza with Pepperoni or Hawaiian pizza are so representative of the brand of origin, and linked to its American context, that they cannot be missing from the menu. Seeking the true American experience, when we enter the Starbucks in Cordusio Square in Milan, we expect to find the real Frappuccino. This is a transformation which turns food from a functional element - having to feed oneself - into an experiential moment, capable of bringing people together and making us think of distant countries.

Finally, service and technology are crucial factors to strengthen the strategy in every country. Making service and technology distinctive resources and being able to replicate them across different countries, allows companies to export their strengths and standardize many procedures. Domino's, for example, has made service and technology its strong points and this remains valid in every nation, something which can only strengthen its internationalization strategy. Think about the possibility of creating your own pizza and seeing it come to life on the screen with Pizza Builder, or the possibility of ordering online, paying online or at delivery, and following the status of orders in real time. Service and technology are winning cards to be played at the global table.

These three steps enable food chains to meet local tastes, offering an experience that brings people together while leveraging their organizational assets. In other words, these are the key moves that make international brands iconic within national borders.

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