Italy - Country Commercial Guide
Agricultural Sector
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Italy’s economic strength is in the processing and the manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium-sized family-owned firms. Therefore, Italy is a net agricultural importer, importing most raw materials and ingredients. Italy exports mainly consumer products to the United States, while the United States exports mostly bulk commodities to Italy. In 2022, U.S. agricultural exports to Italy were $1.13 billion, while U.S. imports from Italy were $7.4 billion.

U.S. - Italy Agricultural Trade 2022

Table: U.S. - Italy Agricultural Trade 2022 
U.S. leading exports to Italy U.S. leading imports from Italy
Soybeans: $501.2 million* Wine: $2.5 billion         
Tree nuts: $273.2 million Baked goods, cereals, and pasta: $1 billion*
Wheat: $136 million   Olive oil: $609.8 million  
Pulses: $54 million*   Dairy products: $509.8 million*
Distilled Spirits: $44.2 million    Condiments and sauces: $436.5 million*
Total exports: $1.3 billion*Total imports: $7.4 billion*

Source: BICO 

* Highest export/import levels since 1970

Italy is one of the largest agricultural producers and food processors in the EU, with the agricultural sector accounting for about 2% of GDP. Italy’s agriculture is typical of the northern and southern division found within the EU. The northern part of Italy produces primarily grains, soybeans, meat, and dairy products, while the south specializes in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wine, and durum wheat. Even though much of the country’s mountainous terrain is unsuitable for farming, about 6% of the population is employed in agriculture. Most farms are small, at an average size of 11 hectares.

Food and Agriculture Import Requirements

To the extent that EU food laws have been harmonized, Italy’s food laws and regulations follow EU rules. The main principle of the single-market concept is to ensure that all food products, whether produced in the EU or imported from a third country, can move freely throughout the EU if they comply with uniform requirements. In Italy, food safety is the primary responsibility of the Ministry of Health, while food production is the primary responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty, and Forests. In some cases, other ministries may have responsibilities, such as the Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy (former Ministry of Economic Development) on standards, labeling, and trade promotion, or the Ministry of Economy and Finance on customs and duties.

Most imported food products enter the Italian market through brokers or specialized traders. Italian importers are usually small to medium-sized companies, rather than the large, market-dominating varieties found in northern Europe. These companies import on a smaller scale, but often a broader range of products, than their much larger counterparts. Price is an increasingly important basis for import-purchase decisions, although quality and novelty do move some products. Imported products from North America often enter Italy indirectly from the Netherlands’ port of Rotterdam or directly via air.

Leading Sub-Sectors

Food Processing Ingredients Sector

The Italian food-processing industry continues to be highly fragmented, characterized by a growing consolidation of smaller companies. The leading players tend to employ multichannel strategies, which helped them to offset food-service losses with higher sales in the retail channel during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a gradual return to in-person work, study, and activities left consumers with less time or inclination for home cooking and home baking. On the other hand, confectionery, snack bars, ice cream, and pastries benefitted from a gradual return to normality.

Artisanal products are at the forefront of the packaged food market. Local consumers continue to prefer fresh products rather than canned products. However, the most popular canned food products are seafood (tuna in particular), meat and meat products, tomatoes, and beans. In addition, the pandemic accelerated Italy’s healthy eating trend, with vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian alternatives, “free-from” products (e.g., gluten-, lactose-, or sugar-free), and superfoods attracting more local consumers. The pandemic also strengthened the locally sourced food trend as a gesture of solidarity with local producers.

Retail Food Sector

The Italian retail food market is highly diversified. Hypermarkets, supermarkets, convenience, discount, and specialized stores coexist with traditional corner shops and open-air markets. Most supermarkets are located in northern Italy, followed by the south, and then by the central region. Convenience stores and small supermarkets are commonly located in central areas of towns and cities. Hypermarkets and supermarkets tend to be positioned within large shopping malls in suburban areas and on the outskirts of cities.

Italy’s retail food sales reached $170.4 billion in 2022, a 2.1% increase over 2021. Increased sales were registered at discount stores (4.1%), supermarkets (2.8%), hypermarkets (2.7%), and small local grocers (1%). Conversely, convenience stores registered a slight decrease (1%). Multi-channel strategies and blending online and in-store sales are key to success across retailing. Grocery retailers are paving the way towards innovative solutions in this respect, offering e-commerce shopping with deliveries to the consumer’s home and in-store lockers for customers to collect online orders. In 2022, delivery services continued to grow, with third-party delivery companies (e.g., Just Eat, Glovo, Deliveroo, and Uber Eats) broadening the product types available for delivery.

Hotel and Food Service Sector

In 2022, Italy’s consumer foodservice value sales increased 19% over 2021. The hotel and food service sector is lucrative and growing, but also diverse and fragmented. Many small establishments dominate Italy, including bed and breakfasts, youth hostels, camping facilities, resorts, and rural tourism.


U.S. bulk and intermediate commodities are used as ingredients or inputs for value-added Italian products that are re-exported. U.S. high-quality durum wheat, for example, is used to produce pasta. Opportunities exist for tree nuts, distilled spirits, food preparations, beer, sauces, dressings, and condiments. All these sectors have seen growth in recent years.Image removed.


Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty, and Forestry

Ministry of Health

U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service Italy:

Office of Agricultural Affairs

U.S. Embassy Rome

Tel.: +39 06 4674 2396