Author’s note: This is the first installment of a serialized story that recounts my return to Italy and my grandfather’s journey to the U.S. My...
Straightforward, innovative and an excellent communicator, these are just a few of the adjectives that can be used to describe the business owner from Alba, a man who involved all his capacities to transform his very own initiatives to become reality on a worldwide level.
He succeeded in doing this by selling technology products, after having developed throughout the entire national territory the Unieuro chain, which had been founded by his father Paul. Oscar Farinetti, however, established himself with excellent results, even in the difficult field of food products, taking an extra step in regards to competition; he managed to sell high quality products using a model of large-scale retail trade.
Proud of his country and attached to his roots, he is very keen to acknowledge the figure of his father, a partisan and important person in the Piemonte Resistance. Among the teachings inherited from his father, is that which places the worker above all profits. And it is precisely to his employees that Farinetti dedicated his degree of Doctor of Business Honoris Causa, bestowed upon him this past May 23rd, by the American College of Rome.
Until a few years ago, your “business core” was focused on high tech, being involved in developing the Unieuro chain, founded by your father, first as CEO, later as President. How does one pass from electronics to a field so complicated as that of the food industry, maintaining the highest of standards?
The transition was not complicated; he who works as a “merchant” and is fortunate enough to be a simple person and at the same time be understood by the general public, can do it in any field. The appliance business was part of a field of needs, so it dealt with helping people to arrive to a certain result with less effort. With Unieuro I did not sell washing machines, but magical white boxes where you would throw in whatever was dirty and it would come out clean. Even the food industry is magical, even if it is rather complicated, but lucky for me, I was born in Italy, the most beautiful country in the world where there is a huge biodiversity, which is why it was not too difficult to present it to the world.
With Eataly you have created a combination which on paper may seem difficult to implement, but in reality, it is what has been the key to its success. It has succeeded in joining the highest quality products with large-scale retail trade. It would in itself be a contradiction of terms, but rather...
This is true. First some of the products were considered a niche market where they were given very small spaces. I have placed these products in large environments and have tried to take the best of the small distribution of high quality products and sell them in a democratic way in large-scale retail. My goal was to convince as many people as I could to eat healthier: not only the rich, but all lovers of food, those who believe that food is the only product we introduce to our bodies, thus making it the most important.
More and more scientific studies underline how crucial good nutrition is in the prevention of major diseases. How useful and necessary it is to send a strong message to the use of genuine products in a western society where there is always less and less time to devote to food?
I have identified a fundamental transition that will distinguish the work of Eataly in the coming months and in the coming years, and more precisely, the harmonious coupling of food and health. In general, we should push back the end of the world through a new relationship with the ecosystem, while, in dealing with individuals, this should be done through a new approach to food. For this reason, we will soon begin a new campaign which will introduce 20% less salt and fats in our food. Eating healthier foods is the first step that each of us can do to ward off diseases. If everyone were to eat better, among other thing, the United States would spend a lot less time in the area of health.
This year, the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) should be ratified, thus creating the largest free trade area in the world. Obama is trying to finalize this before the end of the year, while in Europe there are some stomachaches. What is your idea on this?
I will start by saying that negotiations are crucial and if we act on principle against these, we would be facing senseless positions of confrontations between people and cultures. It it right however, that there are doubts and fears inasmuch there will be a meeting of countries where the relationship with food is very different. These concerns have to be such that the mediators need to be very careful, but at the same time, the agreement must be finalized. In order for the treaty to go through, it must be agreed upon by 38 European countries.
Therefore, a conclusion will not be reached if the decisions are not meet in accordance with the requirements of these countries and the needs from the counterpart. Today, for us, the situation is not in our favor because we cannot import meat from the United States while the States can import all the meat they want from Europe. I find it hard to export cured meats because the American regulatory legislation is exaggerated and so forth. We must simplify and facilitate trade in harmony with the counterpart so as to benefit both sides. I am not very optimistic that the matter will come to a conclusion soon, since the signatures of the 38 countries will be needed.
Last week you presented the new “Gateway to the South” project with which your intend to “push” wine and food excellence from the south of Italy, which, for various reasons, is not able to expand itself to a national and international level. Can you explain what this consists of?
This is an extraordinary idea of our Executive Chairman Andrea Guerra, assisted by my children and by Luca Baffigo, the managing director. We are fortunate to have a store in the deep south, in Bari. Southern Italy is one of the most beautiful places in the world and has many producers of extraordinary excellence. Unfortunately, however, there is great difficulty in being able to sell and export these products at a decent price for producers. Our proposal will give a helping hand to the small-scale producers of excellence products from southern Italy.
In which way?
Ten of them will come to Bari each month in a piazza which we have specially called “Gateway to the South” to present their products primarily to clients of the stores of Bari and then to the buyers at Eataly. To those products that are deserving we will give a big hand to because we will introduce them to all Italian and foreign stores through an export plan and to help them, at the same time, with any bureaucratic activities.
In the United States there are already two Eataly stores, one in New York and one in Chicago. Are there other openings in the making?
Absolutely yes, in the first fifteen days of August we will be opening the second Eataly in New York. It will be an extraordinary store in the fourth tower of the World Trade Center, directly above Ground Zero which will take on a very important significance in terms of conviviality and peace. In October we will open an Eataly, always with increasingly important dimensions, in Boston and next year, probably between March and May, we will also finally be in Los Angeles at the Century City Mall.