A few months ago, we sent our Imports & Exports Procurement Manager, Scott Case, on an Italian trade mission to Italy. Along with representatives from several other specialty retailers from around the USA, he scoured local markets and shops for new products and visited with several producers of authentic Italian specialty products. This effort was to bolster trade with Italy and to ensure that the word is getting out about the great work these small, artisan producers are doing.
We’re thrilled to share with you all his adventures in Italy and some of the wonderful products he found while abroad. With any luck, some of these might be hitting our shelves and site in the coming months!
Today is Monday, which means the rest of the delegates arrive and we visit a few supermarkets in Milan, then travel to Parma.
We spent the bulk of the day visiting Italian markets and meeting with the operators to understand their product development and merchandising strategies. Oh yeah, and we also ate and drank – a lot. Such is the Italian way.
First stop was the Iper La Grande market in Milan. With 26 stores in Italy, it’s one of the most well-known grocery store chains in the country. The impressive thing about Iper was their attention to organic products and foods for people with allergies or specific dietary concerns. They’ve developed several strong brands that support local producers, as well. Coming from Di Bruno Bros, where knowing our producers is a key component of the products that we choose to support, it was nice to see this approach represented on such a large scale – something that unfortunately is not as common in the U.S.
After Iper La Grande, we stopped for a quick – sorry, that’s quick in Milanese terms; really it was a four course lunch – at Bioesseri’, a new organic market and restaurant just outside the heart of Milan. A few highlights from lunch were the lasagna with zucchini and caprino (goat’s milk cheese) and the salmon poached in white wine and rosemary. Note the theme: high quality products, just a few ingredients, simply prepared and jaw-droppingly delicious.
We finished up the day with stops at the 100% organic NaturaSi’, the largest organic market chain in Italy, followed by a stop to TuttoCoop, a private label experiment for the chain Coop. I noticed some really cool products there as well – like jarred Bottarga (salted, dried tuna roe, most commonly used for sprinkling over pasta or adding a touch of salty, concentrated sea-water-flavor to a dish looking for one more addition to take it over the top into profundity) and sliced culatello (hard to find in the U.S., although Di Bruno Bros. carries some domestically produced culatelli.)
Finally, a drive to Parma with the rest of the delegates. I think it’s worth noting the importance of coffee in Italy by including this photo from the tour bus – note the coffee machine on the bus in the lower right-hand corner. And we thought we were fancy for having an espresso machine in the office at Di Bruno Bros.!
We ended the night with a spectacular dinner at the restaurant Parmigianino in Parma (try to guess what ingredient was featured prominently.) I won’t torment you with more food photos – partly because my camera wouldn’t do the food justice and partly because I was admittedly caught up in the great food and the great conversation with the other delegates, all food lovers sharing stories, experiences and wonder at the great food set before us by our gracious hosts.
Tomorrow, we start meeting one-on-one with the producers as part of the new item discovery process. More to come – stay tuned!