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Food Accademia - Italian Food Defined
Fabrizio Canal, CEO, Interviewed

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Introduction by: Peter Marshall

When you think about Italy, what do you think of first? Fashion, food, cars, culture? Well, for me, yes, I love the cars and the fashion, but they are both topped by the country’s people and the food. So, it was a delight to interview Fabrizio Canal, CEO of Food Accademia, who epitomizes the passion that Italians have for their country and the food it offers. As we know, food is the fastest growing category currently in global travel retail, and Fabrizio’s company has a wide range of Italian food and beverage products that encapsulate the essence of the best from Italy – products that should certainly find a ‘home’ in many more travel retail operations worldwide.

Food Accademia’s business doubled last year. This is their story.

Peter Marshall (PM): Fabrizio, welcome to trunblocked.com. Can we start by you telling us how Food Accademia was born?

Fabrizio Canal (FC): Of course, Peter. Food Accademia was born in 2016 from my idea to connect the excellence of Italian food and beverage to the world of duty free and global travel retail. We operate in this sense as a distributor of 100% Italian products from all regions of our country. Working closely with some 50 brands, we pride ourselves on only working with suppliers who deal in high-quality produce, using traditional flavours and ingredients – sometimes in unusual and inspiring ways – and all packaged elegantly to appeal to the global traveller looking for that special culinary treat or gift for themselves or their loved ones.

Our role and unquenchable curiosity to discover and bring to market only the very best of what the Italian food and beverage industry has to offer makes us absolutely unique in this sector.  Food Accademia is the ambassador of the country that is known for turning food into culture.

Having studied the travel retail industry extensively – whether it’s supplying specially selected products to travel retail and duty free and/or food service outlets (including in-flight catering) – we develop relationships with each of our partners to ensure the best results and experiences for both supplier and consumer alike. Wherever they are in the world, we make available to travellers the most appetizing and memorable taste experiences from the heart and soul of Italy.

PM: So how strongly do you believe that Italian enogastronomy, which of course is the art of pairing wine with food, has its place within travel retail? And, yes, I am biased here, why Italian food is regarded as the best and most loved in the world?

FC: Well, there are many reasons why Italian food is universally recognized as the best in the world. These include the quality of the ingredients, the simplicity of preparation, potential health benefits, pure passion, the variety of tastes and even a certain amount of aesthetics.

Italian food has now made its way around the world. Italian emigrants have always brought their cuisine with them and used food as a comforting taste of home, creating their restaurants and sharing their passion with the rest of the world.

As you know, Italy is well-known for its architecture, culture, art, opera, literature, cinema, fashion, design, cars and food, of course! People come to visit our country  from all over the world. But, take note, these are not your casual vacationers but discerning travellers who, during their vacations, seek to enjoy multiple aspects of the places they visit, combining art, culture, shopping and great food in one.

PM: I understand. So it’s all about authenticity, isn’t it?

FC: Absolutely. In an age of immense globalisation, but with considerable instability as we know, travellers desire to explore new horizons. They are not focusing on the exotic but rather on authentic experiences. Driven by the rise of TV programs and easy access to information, there is an emerging desire to rediscover nearby territories and traditional realities. In this landscape, culinary tourism has assumed a predominant role, driving tourists’ preferences when choosing their final destination. Unlike the curious travellers of the past, who travelled in search of flavours and recipes to take back with them as souvenirs, today’s culinary tourism seeks complete, aesthetic experiences. And these include places, culture, art, food and history.

It really is a journey of the senses, an exploration of the soul of Italy through its food – the same food and wine products that travellers are happy to find in duty free stores around the world in an innovative assortment.

PM: That thought is beginning to make me feel hungry! But, moving on, where do you see the biggest opportunities for Food Accademia in 2024?

FC: New needs are born from modern living. We need to meet the demands for excellence and the awareness of an increasingly attentive public where behaviours and lifestyles are marked by self-care and care of the world. So, awareness, information and prudence are the new luxury – a luxury made of culture and attention, made tangible by conscious choices.

Italian wine and food has the opportunity to produce a new identity in Travel Retail. The market has changed, consolidating new habits and it will be increasingly necessary to adopt strategies of brand recognition and product enhancement. Italy is a world leader in food, wine and oil production and our role at Food Accademia is to bring the best of Italy to our travel retail partners internationally. We work with our partners to create a tailor-made portfolio for their travelling customers so that they can enjoy the taste of Italy wherever they are in the world. I would say that, in this case, the food category provides a ‘taste of place’ rather than a ‘sense of place’.

PM: And your expectations for Food Accademia in 2024? What are the major challenges you anticipate?

FC: Now, more than ever, the restaurant industry has a key role to play with the return of significant numbers of international travellers. Air and cruise travel has returned. But in 2022-2023 the choice of nearby destinations was the biggest trend, as was the desire to rediscover familiar places without straying too far from home. Restrictions on international mobility due to health and, sadly, wars, still impact our industry to some extent, as does inflation rate, which can be a cause of recession for travel retail.

The food sector is in an excellent position to meet changing consumer trends, by offering assortments of products that are unique, sustainable or convey a genuine sense of place. Quality food products can play an important role in both recruiting a new generation of shoppers and converting shoppers into buyers.

At Food Accademia we have developed a new assortment mix, with a greater presence of high quality, typical products –  in line with the changing passenger profile, with greater appeal to Millennials and on a heartfelt theme such as sustainability. Practicing sustainability not only means acting responsibly, it also means making one’s company a ‘glass house’  – accessible to the judgement of consumers who want to inquire about activities, governance and social and environmental commitment. In fact, more and more consumers attach importance to production ethics and demand easy-to-understand information and tools to help them make informed and responsible purchasing choices.

PM: Now, with 2023 just gone, how would you characterize the year?

FC: We have seen the strength of the team – we have not stopped investing in people and structure. In this way we have managed to maintain many of the existing business relationships as well as add new ones. We have also developed a new assortment mix, with a greater presence of typical products, in line with the evolution of the passenger profile We actually closed 2023 with a 103% increase over 2022 and I expect to be plus 30% this year.

PM: That’s an excellent result and I suspect a 30% increase for this year is perhaps a little conservative. What, then, were your best selling products?

FC: As I mentioned earlier, travellers are making much more conscious choices, and it is changing both the composition of customers and their behaviour. Research on consumer trends around the world shows that customers today are seeking experiences rather than simply buying a product.

So, best selling lines include the following:

Single portion Tiramisu is definitely the best selling dessert, with excellent numbers  – over 100 thousand – requested in airports and airlines.
Panettone, made of sweet bread and candied fruit and served on Christmas tables in Italy for centuries, has stood the test of time and is going strong outside of its typical seasonality – and our brand represents the best of it. More than 28000 pieces were sold at Italian airports last Christmas. But sales are also going very well in France and, in the UK, it is now a permanent dessert year-round.
Prosecco is confirmed as the leader among wines, with great demand all over the world. Airlines are also asking a lot from us. As an aside, I remember that Delta Airlines has announced that it wants to replace French champagne with Italian Prosecco and Nippon Airways has put out a tender for Italian Prosecco for a different, easy-to-drink product and price.
Italian icons such as these attracted particular consumer interest: truffle products, extra-virgin olive oil, Gragnano pasta, authentic pesto chocolate and desserts.

Finally, a real boom of interest concerns Bella No-Alcohol drinks produced in the Prosecco region of northern Italy. The result is a non-alcoholic beverage that offers all the appeal of Italy’s best and most renowned sparkling wines – but without a drop of alcohol. There are millions of people around the world who do not drink alcohol for different reasons – from beliefs to life choices. I firmly believe it will have a strong appeal to millennial travellers who are wellness-minded. Bella was the winner of last year’s consumer-voted Global Travel Retail Awards in the Low and No-Alcohol Product Category.

PM: All good, Fabrizio. What, then, are Food Accademia’s ambitions and development plans for other regions?

FC: Thanks to our new Commercial Director, Eric Carlier, who has over 25 years experience in the global travel retail industry, we have confirmed plans to develop business in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Eric will also be the driving force behind our participation at the upcoming WTCE in May and TFWA in October.

PM: One last question. If there are three things you want to say to the industry to close this interview, what would they be?

FC: Well, first, for the duty free commercial operators, the quality and dedication of suppliers not only allows them to satisfy customer demand, but also to promote and enhance the ‘sense of place’ and to mark out an individual airport as being part of the destination country experience.

Second, over the past two years, commercial agreements with retailers have had to change. After all, all commercial sectors – but especially those related to long-haul traffic – were dramatically impacted by COVID and needed relief measures to survive. Contractual agreements need to be linked to traffic trends, to be fair and equitable, in order to let us better face the restart together through meaningful economic-financial and contractual dialogues.

Finally, price is what consumers pay. But value is more than price. It is the package of benefits consumers receive which includes not only big brands but also exclusive products, services, experiences and more.

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