Offering a mix of traditional and contemporary dishes is key
PERHAPS it evokes memories of a summer holiday, maybe it’s the uncomplicated nature of many of the dishes, or it could be its versatility – whatever the reason, it seems consumers’ love for Italian food shows no sign of waning.
According to a recent survey by OnePoll, 92% of UK consumers said they enjoy eating Italian food, with 42% of them preferring to eat Italian cuisine in a pub or restaurant; it followed earlier research by online restaurant booking firm Bookatable, which suggested that Italian is the most popular style of cuisine, accounting for a 31% share of the ten most ‘in demand’ foods in the UK.
And the popularity of Italian food is reckoned to be even higher in Scotland, where there is a large Italian community and no shortage of Italian cuisine on bar and restaurant menus.
That Scottish consumers’ appetite for Italian cuisine remains strong is good news for bar and restaurant operators.
Richard Jansen, managing director of Pan Artisan, which supplies dough-based products, including pizza bases and breads, to hospitality businesses, said Italian cuisine is “simple to prepare with great profit potential”.
“Italian food owes its success to the fact that it is often an uncomplicated style of eating which can be easy on the pocket, satisfying and quick to serve,” said Jansen.
“Coupled with the Italian ethos of using good quality ingredients to make simple recipes designed to be shared, pub caterers should take advantage and include elements of Italian food on their menus.”
Paolo Veneroni, director of sales at Italian food and wine supplier Continental Quattro Stagioni (CQS), agreed that demand for Italian food remains strong – thanks, in part, to its broad appeal.
But Veneroni stressed the importance of using fresh, authentic produce, claiming the flavours and freshness of ingredients are key to Italian food.
“It is paramount when cooking Italian dishes to try and use as much authentic produce as possible,” he said.
“Many of our more successful clients are now listing their butcher and fish suppliers’ names and logos on their menus to show consumers the provenance of the ingredients used.
“The same should be applied to Italian products so as to inform and educate the public. If you are, for instance, using Pasta di Gragno for your dishes, why not say so on the menu? This also helps to justify price difference with competitors and other operators, and add value to your offering.”
Veneroni also underlined the importance of offering more contemporary dishes in addition to the traditional pizzas and pastas; and highlighted a trend towards small plates of Italian food.
“Smaller dishes of taster-like proportions of various types are replacing the big slabs of lasagna or mounds of spaghetti of old,” he added.
“Fresh filled pastas with more exotic ingredients as opposed to the usual ricotta and spinach are also becoming more available; for one such type try our Panciotti with scallops and prawns or, alternatively, with an aubergine and Scamorza Affumicata filling, both available from CQS, for something new and interesting.”
Adriano Schenini, of Italian food and wine importer and distributor Carnevale, said the firm is seeing increased demand for better quality products and highlighted a trend towards lighter, healthier Italian dishes, as well as for cicchetti (Italian tapas).
But he said, whatever the dish, the authenticity of the ingredients is “vital”.
“More than ever, customers want to know where their food comes from and, as an operator, this can be used to attract more customers,” said Schenini.
“Good Italian food is made from top quality basic ingredients such as flour, olive oil, cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables without the necessity of swamping the food with overworked, elaborate sauces or masking the taste with spices.
“Understanding the ingredients and how to use them, keeping things simple, fresh and vibrant is what makes Italian food loved by all and economically attractive.”