ROME, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- After performing well in the coronavirus emergency phase, Italy's food industry looked at exports and e-commerce as key factors in an uncertain recovery scenario, a study suggested on Thursday.
"The agribusiness sector has acquired a greater strategic relevance (with the COVID-19 crisis), also in the consumers' perception, and the Italian character of our products has gained strength," Denis Pantini, head of agrifood research of Bologna-based Nomisma think tank, told a virtual event.
At the conference -- which had Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova and business representatives among the key speakers -- Nomisma unveiled the study "The Italian food industry beyond COVID-19" analyzing competitiveness, socio-economic weight, and challenges of the sector.
GOOD PERFORMANCE IN LOCKDOWN
In the pandemic crisis, Italy's food industry proved "its anti-cyclical nature, and supported the entire national economy," the study said.
This claim was based on the results registered in the months of full lockdown (March 10 to May 4), and in the following phase until July.
Food sales in the domestic market grew by 3.3 percent in terms of value between January and July 2020 against the same period of last year, according to the analysis based on data by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
In the same semester, the sales of all other manufacturing products in Italy dropped by 17.6 percent.
For the country's economy, the results confirmed the central role of a sector that already made 11.5 percent of value-added and 12.1 percent of employment of the entire manufacture in 2019.
Despite monthly drops during the lockdown, Italian food businesses performed well on foreign markets in the pandemic considering the first half of this year as a whole.
Between January and June 2020, in fact, sector exports grew by 3.5 percent overall, while the other manufacturing exports fell by 14 percent, according to the Nomisma analysis on ISTAT data.
This did not really come unexpectedly, since Italy's food industry has been looking much abroad to ensure better growth in the latest years, and increasingly to the east.
Sales abroad totaled a record 44.6 billion euros (52 billion U.S. dollars) in 2019 and grew on average by 81 percent from 2008 to 2019 compared to 30 percent of the manufacturing industry overall.
Looking at China, Italian food and wine exports there grew by 129 percent in value between 2010 and 2018 compared to the previous period, according to an estimate by Italian Farmers' Confederation (CIA) based on ISTAT data.
They rose annually by 8.6 percent in 2019 on an annual basis, ISTAT statistics also showed.
Despite this performance, "food businesses were worried," Nomisma's Pantini explained.
According to a survey on a sample of some 200 firms across the country, in fact, almost six out of ten food companies expected a drop in turnover, and only 20 percent predicted growth by the end of 2020.
When asked in the survey what steps would be more crucial for their own future, the first three strategies mentioned by firms were: boosting social media presence in Italy (34 percent) and abroad (24 percent), pushing on quality (34 percent and 21 percent, respectively), and enhancing online sales (34 percent and 27 percent).
"We cannot blame them, since e-grocery in Italy grew by 145 percent in the first emergency phase including the lockdown, and by 132 percent in the May-July period (in values compared to 2019)," Pantini noted.
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