Italian job a challenge

Spanish ham producers need to step up a gear when it comes to exports if they are going to gain any ground on their Italian competitors, exporters have warned.

Speaking at the Espania Original fair in Ciudad Real recently, an event dedicated to gourmet denomination of origin-registered products, exporters said the UK was a significant target for the Spanish.

Agatino Maurizio Failla, from Don Quixote, an export agent for small to medium operators, said Spanish producers were beginning to show increasing interest in export opportunities.

Don Quixote was established a few months ago to represent a number of companies, he said, including producers of Serrano and Iberico hams. The company's suppliers were looking for high volume distributors for either retail or foodservice.

However, the biggest challenge facing Spain, he said, was breaking the Italian stranglehold on the premium deli market. "Spain is at least 10 years behind the Italians when it comes to exporting hams and sausages, and they are having to play serious catchup.

"Sometimes the English think that Italian products are better, but I'm not sure this is the case. I think the Italians are better at selling their products than the Spanish, they know the market better."

He pointed to the proliferation of Italian food and restaurants in the UK as the level of influence the culture has on the market. Don Quixote is not alone in exploring the export opportunities for Spanish products.

Another organisation representing the interests of a number of small to medium producers is Consorcio de Exportacion Spain Gourmet. The company's Christina Navarro said the UK is one of the main targets of the company.

She said it is now time for Spanish product to challenge its Italian competitors. "People are starting to be more aware of Spanish products and that we have the quality to compete with Italian products, and we're cheaper. Even if we were more expensive, the quality would still be better."