Canadian Pizza Magazine

Food fights for its roots

Laura Aiken   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

The Food Roots is bringing awareness to authenticity.

Imagine if another country started playing a sport and called it hockey, but it was played with different rules and equipment. As Canadians, we would be angry that something dear to our nationality and patriotic hearts had been expropriated and misrepresented as something else.


Imagine if another country started playing a sport and called it hockey, but it was played with different rules and equipment. As Canadians, we would be angry that something dear to our nationality and patriotic hearts had been expropriated and misrepresented as something else.

This is precisely what Food Roots, a European co-operative, aims to overcome in the food industry by educating on the importance to local economies of protecting food and its production processes as it relates to designated regions. Specifically, the program is spreading awareness of two certifications of authenticity, DOP (Designation of Protected Origin) and GI (Geographical Indication).

“We hope to make the consumers and buyers more aware that there is a way to purchase with attention to the origin and the quality. DOP will certainly attest to the quality and origin of the product. There is a way to purchase with knowledge,” says Piero Titone, assistant trade commissioner of the Italian Trade Commission in Canada.


One of the main concerns of the Food Roots co-operative is to address the blatant misrepresentation of some products in the marketplace. For example, prosciutto di parma is a GI product in the EU, but consumers can find prosciutto parma style with an Italian-looking logo on the grocery shelves. The use of the name can be misleading, certainly if consumers thinks they are buying prosciutto from Italy, let alone of the traditional place and method. In effect, it is not the “real thing” but consumers are not widely educated on the difference.

The Buonitalia Spa was launched in July 2003 to organize projects and resources directed at promoting Italian food throughout the world. Walter Brunello, chairman, says the Italian community in Canada is a major starting point for the DOP and GI movement.

“The presence of Italian agrifood in Canada is extremely important. As it occurs in the U.S.A., the appreciation for Italian quality leads to large-scale imitation of our products with the subsequent problem related to unfair competition and market access of a variety of Italian products. It should be noted that the North American market – U.S.A., and Canada – represents a global turnover of 21 billion Euros made up of Italian-sounding products, with a true to counterfeited ration of 10 to one,” says Brunello. Statistics on Italy’s food export to Canada showed an increase of 9.2 per cent during the segment of 2008, which Brunello says is noteworthy considering the low population density of Canada with respect to its geographical extension.

For products to attain a DOP logo, they must show the following as defined by EU regulations: “The name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, country, used to describe an agricultural product or foodstuff.” They must pass a set of criteria that proves origination, and quality or characteristics that are due to the environment with its inherent natural and human factors. The processing and preparation of the product needs to take place within the defined geographical area. A GI certification has basically the same requirements except one, not all phases of production must take place within the identified zone.

 “The logos are already out there . . . It is a matter of buyers making the sellers understand that they are looking for these products and for the sellers to identify these products better to these clients. For the retailers as well, in the long run, any restaurant who will state on the menu that the particular product is made with DOP products is giving an extra value and level of service to the Canadian consumer,” says Titone.

“Consumers must be provided with this kind of information in order to allow them to make the difference between quality certified products and fake Italian sounding products,” says Brunello. “Moreover, we should set a premium on the added value for the food production and the local communities, in economic terms as well as for the brand-image, stemming from and adequate system of protection of geographical indications.”

 “The adequate spreading of the geographical indication system should be useful not only to developing countries, whose economy could be heavily influenced by national and foreign investments in the industrial sector, but indeed each individual and country should be interested in protecting their national cultural roots,” says Fred Kingston, senior advisor, economic and commercial affairs, delegation of the EU commission in Canada. The extension of the program does not affect prior uses, trademarks and generic names, notes Kingston. For example, Parmigiano Reggiano is a GI product, but parmesan is still a generic term for it.

Local food production is an important part of the Italian economy. Pier Maria Saccani, secretary general of the Italian Association of Geographical Indication Consortia (AICIG), notes that “certified agrifood productions make up approximately 10 per cent of the national GDP of the food sector, with an annual value of allied activities of nearly 20 billion Euros and 200,000 jobs.” The AICIG represents 46 affiliates, including Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Gorgonzola, Chianti Classico and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.

The World Trade Organization plays a central role in coordinating the legislative framework between EU and non-EU countries so that the different approaches taken by different places become standardized. A step beyond products stamped as fair trade, DOP and GI creates a more authentic market-place by protecting each facet of the product’s authenticity.

“We just hope that the program will develop into a second phase, which will be getting Canadian marketing boards, associations and agricultural producers to basically attend special tours and seminars and learn how the local economies can really benefit from developing such denominations and protection for their product,” says Titone. “There is such economic value to the local economies, better fair trade for the farmers, for the producers, and for the benefit of everybody.”

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