Italy campaigns against foods that aren't really Italian

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ROME--The Italian government is planning a marketing and PR campaign to help curb the popularity of faux Italian foods in international markets.

The campaign, which will feature special labeling identifying the products as bona fide Italian foods, will also include advertising efforts aimed at educating consumers to spot the difference. The Ministry of Agriculture-sponsored initiative so far has no formal budget, and early efforts are being funded by the ministry's general fund.

Agricultural Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio says Italy would use the "Denomination of Protected Origin" (DOP) certification of quality to identify the best Italian food products. The first part of the initiative would be assuring the quality of products that receive the prestigious DOP seal.

"Once the best foods are labeled as such, we can go about informing foreign customers that they should look out for the seal," a ministry spokesman says.

The ministry first became aware of the problems with false labeling of Italian products after some companies -- some Italian and some multinational -- began labeling certain cheeses for sale in non-Italian markets "Parmesan" with no guarantees that the cheeses were prepared with the same standards used by cheese makers in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Similarly, the ministry has found cases where inaccurate labeling was used on products as wide ranging as Parma ham and Chianti wine.

Products with the DOP label usually cost more than alternatives, since they must undergo strict quality controls.

"In the U.S., it is easy to find produce with Italian flags on it, even though it is not produced in Italy," says Mr. Scanio. "We are trying to develop a global strategy to defend our foods on international markets."

Mr. Scanio says his ministry is working to develop a cohesive marketing effort to create an awareness of regional brand names for which customers were willing to spend more than alternatives.

Copyright July 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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