Development of American Products in Italy

A deeper look into the success of both American food and clothing products since they have integrated into Italy

By Isabelle Burridge, Grace Downey, Audrey Pino and Caroline Young

For an American coming to live in Italy, there are certain things that you can miss while you are away. Maybe you miss your favorite fast food restaurant or going shopping at your local mall with your favorite stores. As the trade between the U.S. and Italy grew, it allowed many different clothing stores like, Urban Outfitters and Tommy Hilfiger to expand overseas, as well as the growth of American food products that are found in local Italian grocery stores and vice versa. We decided to take a deeper look into the success of both American food and clothing products since they have integrated into Italy.

Where can an American get some Peanut Butter?

To understand what American products thrive here, it is best to start at the source: a local grocery store. Esselunga is an Italian grocery store brand that started in 1957, and as of 2018 now holds 8.7% of all of the supermarket industry in Italy. With over 152 stores, and 94 of them located in just the Lombardy province, it is safe to say that Esselunga knows a thing or two about which products thrive here and which do not.

We were lucky enough to get the chance to sit down with the store manager of our local Esselunga to discuss his favorite American products and also which ones are the most popular amongst locals here. According to him, the most popular “American” products include a range of cheeseburgers, peanut butter, condiments such as ketchup and mayonnaise, and the latest american trendy food: Avocados. He then went on to discuss how not all of these products necessarily are American brands, but all trends that have started from the United States and become popular overseas. “I can not tell you the amount of times I have had exchange students coming in asking where the Jif peanut butter is, and then the look of utter disappointment that comes across their faces when they realize we carry one type and it usually is around 5 euros. That may come across as shocking to you, but for Italians it is not something that we need an excess amount of.” He then went on to say an American trend that is very popular in Italy is cheeseburgers.

Over the last ten years, Esselunga stores went from carrying no burgers at all to having everything from a chicken burger to a veggie burger in their locations.

Over the last ten years, Esselunga stores went from carrying no burgers at all to having everything from a chicken burger to a veggie burger in their locations.

It is fascinating how something as simple as a burger can become one of Esselunga’s biggest imports. As years go on, it will be exciting to see what different “American trends” make their way to Italian grocery stores and which products Americans come into their stores craving.

Retail and Its Adaptation to New Style

Retail trade is something that is just starting to become more popular in recent years due to the different styles that different places all over the world have. That being said it is starting to grow rapidly. Urban outfitters has just opened its first Italian store on December 14, 2017 in Milan and from there they are expecting to expand based on the success they have been having. Vogue Italia describes it as “a must-see destination for those who appreciate streetstyle and coolness made in the USA.” This American brand is commonly known in the United States, with more than 200 locations, and expanding in Europe with over 50 locations. Traditionally, Urban Outfitters has represented more of the hipster, street-style but the Italian fashion is known to be more chic. An exclusive interview with design director Lizzie Dawson, Elle Magazine was able to dig deeper into how they were going to tailor the traditional Urban style to fit that of Milan. “We have a team of London-based designers who are really special, create with heart and make a very creative fashion, have an aesthetic attention to fabrics, colors and silhouettes that mix in a different way than usual…I think Urban will be able to do a bit of London style here in Milan.” Since the first store has opened in Italy, there has been one more opened in Milan, and one in Rome. This American brand continues to grow and based on their success, they expect to open more in the future.

Tommy Hilfiger is another American brand that is all over Europe, they just had their spring collection debuted in Milan Fashion Week. Tommy Hilfiger is known in the United States as more of a luxury brand, it is uncommon for people of the middle class to be purchasing retail from this brand. However, in Milan, Tommy is more of a premium brand, meaning it is not as commonly considered ‘luxury.’ It still seems to be a well established brand in Italy, but as we observed the Milanese culture, we noticed it is known as ‘normal’ to wear higher end brands or designer brands more often.

We found that this brand had an easier time being integrated and becoming successful in Italian culture for a few reasons, the main one being that Gigi Hadid is currently the face of the brand with her own line, Gigi X Tommy, as well as recently being the opener of the fashion show during Fashion Week in Milan. Because she is such a known face, she brings relatability to the brand overseas and people begin to recognize the brand name through the people that represent it. According to an article recently released by Fashion Network, “the fashion house of Tommy Hilfiger announced a 10 percent increase in revenues in the third quarter of 2017 to $1 billion. With the impressive rise driven outside of the USA by the positive fallout from partnering with Hadid, which helped ballooned international turnover 16 percent to $609 million.” This tells us that although this is not considered a luxury brand here in Italy, comparative to some of the native companies, with the help of big names and faces like Hadid that are known worldwide, brands are able to better establish themselves and grow abroad.

Tommy Hilfiger can be known to exude an American theme, considering their color pallet is usually red, white, and blue. This is consistent throughout all of Europe. The brand doesn’t change the theme of their clothing based on where it is being distributed. Their clothing pieces are all the same. This consistency allows for better brand recognition and therefore helps its ability to grow abroad.

The Impact of Italian Products in the United States

While the popularity of American products in Italy has risen over the last few decades, there has also been a large increase in the export and sale of Italian products in the United States. Italian products, ranging from food and wine to pharmaceuticals and machines, are in high-demand around the world; according to the Economic Complexity Index, Italy is the tenth largest export economy in the world with a total export revenue around $500 billion. The United States ranks third on Italy’s top export destination list, with the most popular food exports from Italy to the United States including wine, olive oil, cheese and pasta. Americans are also some of the top consumers for Italian vehicles, machinery, textiles and clothing, and home goods, like ceramics.

It is extremely common for Italian food products to be exported and sold in the United States. One of the main reasons for this is the higher quality standard of food in Italy. In the US, it is usually more expensive to purchase food products that are organic and do not contain any GMOs; however, this price is usually the same as the cost of imported Italian products.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census’ data from April 2017, Italy was the primary import source in the United States for both wine and cheese, second for olive oil, truffles, and caviar, and fifth for processed meats. The popularity of Italian food products in the US has steadily increased over the years, leading to this large majority-share for the Italian export market.

Italian food products are not the only aspect of Italian production that have been exported to the US. Italian fashion brands, especially high-end companies like Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace, have storefronts throughout the United States. Many Americans may not even realize that some of their favorite stores and products are originally Italian, like Diesel jeans, FILA luxury sportswear, and Missoni knitwear. The popularity of these companies is simple; for centuries, Italians have been recognized as some of the most fashionable and best-dressed men and women in the world and the quality of the clothing reflects that. As with the American import of Italian food products, Italian clothing is a popular import in the US because of the sheer quality of the clothing and the connotations of wearing Italian-made clothes. Italian products are a significant part of American culture, from the kitchen to the closet, and this ongoing trade between the two countries has been beneficial for the economies of both countries.