What Italians are eating, the CT scan of the Immagino Observatory.


Italian food consumption trends are x-rayed in the ninth edition of the Immagino 1/2021 Observatory by GS1 Italy and Nielsen. The report describes the trends of more than 120,000 references distributed in Italian supermarkets and hypermarkets in 2020.

Imagine Observatory, the sustainable consumption trend

From animal welfare to the environmental and social impact of food production, the call for sustainability is the dominant theme on product labels on the label. Consumers seek it, and industry and distribution players respond. (1)

Calls for ‘sustainability’ appear on the labels of 22 percent of the products monitored by the Imagine Observatory in 2020. And these claims, as we shall see, are attributed a 7.6 percent increase in sales, with a total value of 10 billion euros.

‘Antibiotic-free,’ sales doubled in two years

Free-froms account for 25 percent of sales in the Immagino food basket. With a vertical growth of animal products ‘
without antibiotics
‘, whose sales doubled in two years (+41.3% 2020 over 2019, +60% the previous year). 153 references including cold cuts, chicken, frozen fish, and especially eggs.

Free from‘ and ‘clean label

Rising next were‘polyphosphate-free‘ (+12.6%),‘glutamate-free‘ and‘non-fried‘ (both +10.5%),‘aspartame-free‘ (+10%) and‘additive-free’ (+7.9%). Consumers confirm more attention to health and the so-called
clean labels
. Thus:

preservative-free is present on 5.8 percent of products, with a sales share of 9.2 percent,

palm oil-free,’ already an industry champion, continues to gain momentum (+2.3 percent sales). Especially on pastry products, fourth-process poultry products, long-life bread, and sandwiches.

dye-free,’ +2% sales, is especially sought after on breakfast cereals, frozen ready-to-eat fish, cookies, and fruit-flavored drinks. Rightly so, when synthetic dyes are involved.

Gluten-free and ‘lactose-free

In the free-from segment dedicated to people with food intolerances, the two claims‘gluten-free‘ and‘lactose-free‘ continue to stand out, whose products exceed 4 billion euros in sales:

Gluten-freeis on 8,363 references and registers +5% in sales. Cold cuts, beef preparations and mayonnaise are growing. ‘Spiga barrata,’ the gluten free certified by AIC (Italian Celiac Association), in turn advances with 3.9%,

Lactose-freegrows even more, sales up 6.7 percent. Sliced meats, frankfurters, milk replacer drinks and fermented milk/kefir the lactose-free on the rise.

Rich in. Omega 3, protein, fiber

Among the ‘rich inclaims – turnover of 3.4 billion euros in 2020, +4.6 percent – the following stand out in particular

Omega 3 (+10.1%) on salmon and frozen fish,

protein(+9.4 percent) on sliced meats, Greek yogurt, fermented milk, rusks, and frozen natural fish,

Lactic ferments (+6%) on mozzarella, fermented milk/kefir, watercress and yogurt.

The most solid riches remain those related to fiber. With a 3.7 percent share of total food sales, this claim increases sales by 4.3 percent, markedly on enriched rusks, plant-based frozen foods, ready-to-eat soups and purees, plant-based ready meals, and croquettes.

Related to the good presence of fiber, the claim
‘ continues to increase sales, 3.1 percent, particularly for breakfast cereals, flours/mixes, and cookies.

Finally, claims reporting the presence of iodine (+8%) on frozen fish, poultry preparations, and tomato puree, and zinc (+3.5%), nuts, kefir, and Uht milk were good. The trend for the‘magnesiumclaim declined, linked to declining sales of shelled nuts, flavored waters, sweet snacks, and snacks (-2.3%).

Lifestyles at the table. Organic outperforms all

Organic stands out among identity products, chosen because they are consistent with a lifestyle. The organic logo appears on nearly 8 thousand references – 9.4 percent of food products surveyed by Immagino – and drives sales +2.9 percent annually, well above 2019’s 2.1 percent.

The ‘bio-well-being,’ as revealed in the Food special, in 2020 covers flours, eggs, jams, milk substitute drinks, and frozen vegetable products. What’s more, the Immagino Observatory does not consider channels other than large-scale retail, such as specialty stores and direct deliveries, which also showed significant growth.

Vegetarians and vegans in turn increase sales, +10.4 percent and +9.5 percent, respectively. And the same Veg recall is experiencing brisk approval (+8.7 percent). Finally, foods conforming to the dictates of kosher (Jewish religion) and halal (Islam) show increases of +7.3 and +5 percent.

Fairtrade, tricolor

Reference to certifications and logos, on a voluntary basis, is a constantly and rapidly evolving phenomenon. Operators also try in this way to express the added value of products:

Fairtrade, the fair trade certification, is present on 236 references and is driving 10.1 percent growth. Absolute victory for fair-trade and organic bananas, free of the pesticides that penetrate the skin of conventional fruits instead,

Friend of the Sea is present on 516 references and acts as a driver for sales of canned tuna and other canned fish (+6.1%),

Italy’s tricolor continues its climb on the shelf, +6% turnover on food sales,

CSR(Corporate Social Responsibility) waved on the label is also close to 4.2 billion euros (+5.3 percent), although this is often mere greenwashing.

Ingredients of health appeal, the avocado case

The sale of foods considered beneficial or containing ingredients with such a name slows down overall with an increase of just 0.9 percent, up from 2.7 in 2019. Driving the sector are seeds (+10.9%)-with a surge for sesame (+32.5%) la and pumpkin (+14.4%). Hemp, on the other hand, is down (-6.4 percent).

Superfruits (+2.1 percent) are also on the positive side. Here the amazing performance of avocados continues, +67.4 percent after 92.9 percent in 2019, with 41 references between the fruit as is and preparations (sauces and gravies) containing it. This is an extremely positive trend, so much so that the fruit will be included in the ISTAT basket in 2018, which we hope will suggest an increase in domestic production, in Calabria and Sicily.

Superstar almonds, better if they are Italian

More solid is the success of almonds, which in this category remain the most popular beneficial ingredient (1,140 products) and most effective as a sales accelerator (+3.5 percent). In this regard, it is useful to recall the major difference between Italian and imported almonds, which we have already reported on.

Standing still, however, are multigrain flours, following the previous year’s decline (-4.5 percent). Credit for the recovery goes to oats (+5.4 percent) and cornmeal (+14.9 percent). Among spices, the good performance of cinnamon (+8%) was contrasted by declines in turmeric (-6.1%) and ginger (-5.1%).

Superfood. Microalgae skyrockets

Spirulina staggers with sales at +20.7% across 25 references in FMCG, including dietary supplements and smoothies. It is recommended in this regard to choose products without theadditive silicon dioxide.

In contrast, goji berries record the worst performance in 2020. -33%, perhaps also due to suspicions about possible pesticide residues on non-organic foodstuffs arriving from afar. Also down are matcha (-10 percent) and acai (-16.2 percent).

The processing method

The specification on the label of the food processing method mainly concernscold extracted‘ extra virgin olive oil. It is present in 271 references and marks a modest progress in sales, +0.7 percent.

by shelf presence, however, is the claim‘drawn‘. It concerns 1,009 products, mainly bronze-drawn semolina pasta, which are the protagonists of a 10.5 percent annual growth. Another targeted appeal for pasta concerns drying, which drives sales by +5.7 percent.

Very dynamic were the claims‘unfiltered,’ which elevates sales of beers above all by 25.2 percent, and‘smoked‘ (+25.5 percent), cited on 76 references. And again,‘handmade‘ (+9.8 percent), especially for tuna and canned fish, with the exception of ice cream, which while remaining in the background gains sales of +30.7 percent.

Heavy setback, finally, for the‘sourdoughclaim, down -13.4 percent compared to 2019. The fate of the 393 references bearing it on the label has been greatly affected by the reduction in use of this claim on frozen pizzas and snacks, as well as declining sales of recurrence products.

Marta Strinati


(1) The ninth edition of the Imagine Observatory is available here. See also the previous report on Food consumption. Imagine Observatory’s snapshot. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 15.2.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/consumi-alimentari-la-fotografia-dell-osservatorio-immagino

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".