Italian Sounding: can you spot fake Italian food?

Italian Sounding: can you spot fake Italian food? What it is, how it works, and what damage it does to Made in Italy.
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The phenomenon of Italian sounding to the detriment of made-in Italy agri-food exceeds 100 billion euros in value, more than double the turnover of the export of authentic products. But what is it? What damage it does to the made in Italy? And how do you fight it?

Just because it seems Italian doesn’t mean it’s original!

By wandering on the shelves of any supermarket abroad, you may often come across products such as Parmesan, Prošek, or Zottarella. Have you ever heard of them? These are non-Italian products, with no connection to Italy nor involvement with an Italian manufacturer.

This practice is called “Italian Sounding,” meaning Italian agri-food products are imitated for fraudulent marketing by using names, images, including the Italian flag, geographical references in labels, and packaging that unequivocally evoke a fake “Italianness.”  Many international firms find it profitable to associate their products to the image, the semblance, and the attraction that the brand Made in Italy has, without having a real connection with Italy. Such practice is an illegal appropriation of that competitive advantage that Italian products have internationally for the sake of high profits.

According to Coldiretti– an organization representing Italian agricultural entrepreneurs and farmers- six out of ten Italian products in the market abroad are fake replicas.

The most frequent imitation occurs with Italian wines, especially Prosecco; Italian cheeses (Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano; Mozzarella; Pecorino and Gorgonzola) ;  pasta; tomato sauces and cold cuts (prosciutto di Parma, salame Toscano o Milano).

What damages does fake Italian food do?

Coldiretti has estimated that the total monetary loss caused by the Sounding Italian phenomenon exceeds 100 billion euros in value, more than double the turnover of the export of authentic Italian products.

Italian Sounding damages the typical product from a monetary point of view and undermines a whole trait of Italian culture and identity. Italian products are more than food. They are a paradigm of territory, traditions, and community.

Do consumers suffer damages too? Of course! The practice of counterfeiting results from the exploitation of consumers’ asymmetric information, which brings consumers to misleading associations of fake practices to authentic products.

Producers of counterfeits exploit the scarce information of consumers by producing a product lower-in-quality, marketizing it by taking advantage of the association with the “Bel Paese,” and with a price that equals that of the original one. Consumers are thus unable to value the authenticity of the products given the not-so-clear advertising and information they are exposed to. 

So how can you make sure that the Italian food or wine you’re buying is authentically Italian?

At this point, you might be overwhelmed asking yourself: how can I recognize an authentic Italian product when I am shopping? So to make sure that what you’re purchasing is, in fact, authentically Italian, here are some helpful, practical tips to use:

  1. Look for the Designations of Origin through a series of seals affixed to the packaging certified by the European Union. These include:
  • PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) ensures the product is produced in a specific geographic area using traditional methods. For example, Grana Padano.
  • PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) identifies a product whose quality is connected to the geographical area where it is produced. For example, Aceto Balsamico di Modena.
  • TSG (Territorial Speciality Guaranteed) warrants the product’s geographic provenance and controlled production process. For example, mozzarella cheese.
  • DOC and DOCG (Denomination of Controlled Origin and Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)define legit wine production areas and production methods.
  1. Always check where the good is manufactured. On the label of every product, the production site must be reported. So, look for “Made in Italy” or “Imported from Italy” on the label.

In doubt? Ask the Italian-Cambodian Business Association

To educate Cambodian consumers, international travelers,  hospitality industry professionals about the characteristics of authentic Italian agri-food products, ICBA has embraced a campaign that aims to strengthen and safeguard the presence of authentic Italian quality products in the Cambodian market.

Through “Italy in Cambodia, Anything Authentically Italian in Cambodia, ICBA pursues to promote what is authentically Italian in Cambodia. We want to help consumers in Cambodia who love Italian food not be deceived by fake or counterfeit products.

Daily, we put significant efforts into discovering authentic Italian food providers in the Kingdom. As a result, we are warranting them fair recognition and efficient communication. In addition, we daily promote restaurants and resellers that use Italian products to inform locals and visitors about authentic Italian excellence on social media.

To know more, visit our website to find a list of authentically Italian food providers, resellers, and distributors.

And try the authentic Italian food in Cambodia!

Iris Ziliotto     

✍️  Iris Ziliotto

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