Barilla, guided by its ambitious chairman, holds 35% of Italy's $2.8 billion pasta business and is pushing hard to achieve that figure across the Continent. By last year, the company had consolidated its position as Europe's market leader with a share of more than 22.5% in the 2.7 million ton market. This brings in $210 million in sales outside Italy, a 12.5% increase over 1992 for Barilla.
One of Italy's largest food groups, Barilla had sales of $2.2 billion last year and was the country's fifth largest advertiser with a marketing budget of $165 million. Although pasta contributes about one-third to sales, nearly 50% of total ad spending supports the company's pasta efforts.
Mr. Barilla was able to get his brand to outperform the market and move further ahead of key European rivals, BSN, with its 16% share for its Panzani and Agnesi brands, and Nestle with just over 10% for its Buitoni brand.
Mr. Barilla, 36, says Italian pasta is enjoying a sales surge because European consumers consider it healthful, inexpensive and easy to prepare.
"Our underlying strategy for Europe is to concentrate on pasta and the Barilla brand," he says. "We keep a close eye on our core business-pasta."
Mr. Barilla is also carefully crafting an ad strategy to meet the company's changing needs. Currently using well-known celebrities and sports figures as endorsers, including tennis star Steffi Graf in Germany, actor Gerard Depardieu in France, tenor Placido Domingo in Spain and tennis star Stefan Edberg in Sweden, Barilla is considering a new coordinated approach.
"We are studying a move away from testimonials and local campaigns toward a more pan-European approach," says Mr. Barilla.
Starting next year, Barilla will boost its spending outside Italy to $25 million from $20 million and consolidate all of its pan-European advertising at DDB Needham France, ending its relationship with TBWA de Plas, Paris, which handles advertising for France, and with Butler, Shine & Stern, Sausalito, Calif., agency for German advertising.
Young & Rubicam and Armando Testa, both Milan, will continue to handle the account for Italy.
Mr. Barilla has some big shoes to fill. His grandfather Riccardo founded the company in 1878, and his father Pietro, one of Italy's most admired and respected businessmen, built Barilla into one of Italy's largest food groups.
As the current chairman puts the Barilla name on the list of major multinationals, he's doing so with care. "Eating habits are somewhat like language," he says. "They differ from country to country. And more so for cooking pasta than for, let's say, drinking Coca-Cola."