Italian cheese is a true ambassador of culinary excellence, cherished and celebrated worldwide for its remarkable diversity and rich flavors. Crafted from a range of milk types, with unique production techniques and aging processes, Italian cheese has earned the loyalty of millions of consumers, positioning it as a global leader in the dairy market.
Among the most renowned food products abroad, we find PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) cheeses, not only representing the pinnacle of Italian cheese-making tradition but also ensuring the quality, authenticity, and unique characteristics of a product intrinsically linked to its place of origin.
In the following paragraphs, we will delve into the most in-demand Italian dairy products worldwide, examining market trends and business opportunities for food distributors and food service operators. Get ready to explore the dynamic world of Italian cheese and discover the strategies behind its global success.
The Success of Italian Cheeses on Global Markets
Among the most beloved PDO Italian cheeses by foreign consumers, Parmigiano Reggiano, a typical product from Emilia-Romagna, stands out. According to the Consortium for the Protection of Parmigiano Reggiano, in 2022 sales and exports increased by +2.6% and +3%, respectively. With a turnover reaching a historic high of €2.9 billion, consumer spending rose by +6.9% compared to 2021. The export share increased by two percentage points, reaching 47%. The main reference markets are the United States (+8.7%), France (+7.2%), Spain (+11.3%), Japan (+38.8%), Australia (+22.7%), and Canada (+6.3%).
The Gorgonzola cheese, produced in Lombardy and Piedmont, and the Grana Padano cheese, produced in Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and Piedmont, enjoy a strong presence in foreign markets. According to data released by the Consortium for the Protection of Gorgonzola Dop Cheese, the number of cheese wheels produced in 2021 increased by over 3% compared to 2020, and foreign sales grew by 5.4% in the first 9 months of the year. The export data for Grana Padano is also decidedly positive. After recording its best performance of the last decade in 2021, with a total increase of 7.07%, the Consortium for the Protection of Grana Padano Cheese invested 16 million euros in foreign communication in 2022, with the goal of consolidating commercial relationships with major importers (such as the United States, Germany, and France) and exploring the interest of emerging foreign markets.
The Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO is not far behind. In 2022, exports of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO increased by 9% compared to 2021. Among the main national markets, we find France, which alone accounts for 33% of exports.
Not to be underestimated is the popularity of Pecorino Romano, a typical cheese product from Lazio. In 2022, the Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Romano estimated the revenue of Pecorino Romano DOP to be €320 million, including both domestic and foreign markets, with a total of 291,000 quintals. Export represents the main component of its commercial value, accounting for 70% of the total. The United States is the main destination area, with 52%, followed by the European Union countries, with 24%.
The performance of so-called niche products, which represent the tradition and cuisine of specific Italian regional areas, is also achieving excellent results. Take, for example, Burrata di Andria PGI: the explosive growth in searches in recent years is a testament to the huge success of burrata abroad, making it one of the most sought-after Italian dairy products worldwide (to learn more, read "Italian Burrata: record growth in international markets. Business opportunities, trends and seasonality").
Import-export of Italian cheeses: trends and market analysis
The interest in Italian DOP and IGP cheeses abroad is due not only to the wide variety of products and their quality but also to the Italian cheese-making tradition and their link with the production territory. According to recent data released by Assolatte (Italian Dairy Association), in 2022 the export quota exceeded 550,000 tons (+6%), for a turnover close to 4.2 billion euros (+19%), demonstrating the importance of the Italian dairy sector in international markets. Among European destinations, Spain (+19%), France (+12%), and the Netherlands (+14%) stand out; while in extra-European countries, growth rates between 20% and 30% have been recorded in Canada, Japan, China, and Saudi Arabia. This confirms the increasing demand for Italian cheese abroad and the need for Italian food distributors to maintain and expand their presence in these markets
Italian dairy products are a valuable resource for importers and distributors, as confirmed by the top ten list on TasteAtlas, the international atlas of local traditional dishes and products. Out of the ten positions on the list, eight are exclusively occupied by Italian cheeses, highlighting the significant impact and recognition of Italian dairy products in the global market.
According to various sector surveys, Italian cheese, along with extra-virgin olive oil and wine, is considered one of the most appreciated agri-food products abroad, not only for its high quality but also because it represents Italy at its best on the world stage.
Another factor that contributes to the interest of foreign markets in Italian cheeses is the increasing demand for organic and sustainable products. In 2021, sales of organic agri-food products Made in Italy on international markets reached 2.91 billion euros, recording an 11% increase compared to 2020. Among the most requested organic products are wine, pasta, vegetable preserves, and cheeses. This recognition has allowed Italy to rank second in the global ranking of organic product exporters in 2021, just behind the United States. The growing interest in sustainable and organic food presents a great opportunity for Italian cheese distributors to expand their market reach and cater to the evolving tastes and preferences of consumers worldwide.
Opportunities for importers, distributors, and the retail industry
The dairy industry is one of the pillars of the Italian agri-food sector, offering high-quality, authentic, and unique products that are appreciated and recognized worldwide. The strong presence of Italian dairy products in foreign markets and the increasing demand for them represent a great opportunity for distributors, retailers, and food service operators. By providing high-quality and authentic products and taking advantage of the protection and promotion of Italian dairy products at both national and international levels, they can benefit from these market trends.
In order to successfully market these products, it is essential to develop a well-crafted B2B marketing strategy that takes into consideration the unique aspects of national/regional markets as well as the particular qualities of the cheeses themselves.
Firstly, for both established and emerging markets, a B2B marketing strategy should include highly targeted communication that highlights the specific characteristics of Italian cheeses and their ability to satisfy local consumer tastes. This can be achieved through participation in trade fairs and events, and meetings with key market players such as importers, distributors, and restaurateurs. Secondly, a campaign can be launched to raise awareness about the characteristics, culinary uses, and history of Italian cheeses, utilizing digital communication channels such as social media, blogs, e-commerce platforms, and marketplaces.
Opportunities for the food sector industry
With a range of different types of Italian cheeses now protected by the DOP and IGP brands, it's never been easier for restaurants to offer authentic and high-quality products to their customers.
For Italian restaurant owners, the benefits of sourcing and serving these products are clear. Italian cheeses are a staple ingredient in many traditional Italian dishes, and their authenticity can help to set your restaurant apart from competitors. For restaurateurs who don't specialize in Italian cuisine, incorporating Italian cheeses into your menu can provide a unique and exciting twist, offering customers new and different flavor experiences.
The rising demand for Italian cheese has opened up exciting business opportunities for restaurateurs worldwide. In many cities, the local food scene is becoming more global, and customers are increasingly looking for international options. As a result, restaurants that offer authentic Italian cheese products are likely to attract a diverse range of customers who are interested in trying new and exciting flavors.
One way that restaurateurs can tap into this trend is by partnering with Italian cheese suppliers and distributors. These companies can provide guidance on the different types of cheeses available, as well as advice on how to incorporate them into the restaurant menu. They can also help with sourcing and logistics, ensuring a consistent supply of high-quality products.
Overall, the growing demand for Italian cheese presents a lucrative possibility for restaurateurs worldwide (and for distributors focused on food service). By incorporating these products into their menus, restaurant owners can tap into a new and diverse customer base, and offer unique and authentic flavor experiences that will keep customers coming back for more.
B2B marketplace for Italian cheeses
Visit the Cheese and Dairy section of the Italian Food News international B2B marketplace. The marketplace is open to Italian producers and international buyers (distributors, wholesalers, importers, food service, and HoReCa operators):