Italian Trade Agency Director Marco Verna

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If you just bought an Italian product from your local grocery market or bookstore, chances are Marco Verna and his staff at the Italian Trade Agency helped put it on the shelf.

Have you ever wondered how so many delicious Italian cheeses, pastas, sauces and wines show up in your local supermarket? It’s a little bit of magic created by an agency of the Italian government with a local branch located right on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.

Marco Verna arrived from Italy last September to head the Italian Trade Agency in the Windy City. Known in Italy as ICE (Istituto per il Commercio Estero) Agenzia, ITA has five U.S. offices, each of which specializes in a different business sector.

Verna and his expert staff are charged with helping Italian producers find a market for their products in the United States, thereby helping Italy’s economy while also enhancing the bottom line of their American partners. In their role as matchmakers, they also introduce Italian companies to U.S. buyers.

Verna, who in his spare time loves listening to music and is a huge Beatles and Elvis fan, spoke with Fra Noi about his work and life.

FRA NOI: Tell me a little about yourself.

VERNA: I was born in Rome and have always lived there except when I was assigned abroad by the Italian Trade Agency.

I started working at the age of 19, and while I was working, I graduated from La Sapienza University, earning my degree cum laude in political sciences. I’ve been working for the ITA for over 35 years. It’s a great career. I was assigned to ITA’s New York office from 2001-04, and I was there on 9/11.

I’m married and I have twin boys, age 21. I tried to remain in Italy until they finished school, then I accepted an assignment in Spain from 2013-18, then returned to Rome.

In ITA’s headquarters in Rome, I was initially assigned to oversee accounting for the Italian textile and machinery sectors, then I worked as an auditor. I have always loved the challenge of learning new things.

I speak Italian, English, Spanish and French.

FRA NOI: Tell us all about the Italian Trade Agency.

VERNA: It was founded almost a century ago, in 1927. It is the Italian government agency that promotes business opportunities for Italian producers all over the world. We help Italian producers of machinery, fashion, jewelry, furniture, food, wine and other products that Italy is known for to find markets for their products abroad.

FRA NOI: Do you have staff in Chicago?

VERNA: Yes, I have eight employees here; six permanent and two on a temporary basis. The employees know the American market. My staff goes to trade shows all over the country and in Italy, as well. They help companies find customers all over the United States. My staff has a deep understanding of the American market and provides up-to-date trade and business information, as well as prepares market research reports and economic profiles on the 11 Midwestern states under our jurisdiction.

FRA NOI: Tell me about ITA globally.

VERNA: ITA has a network of 79 offices in 65 countries. Of those, five offices are in the United States. Each of our offices is assigned specific industry sectors of responsibility throughout the entire U.S. territory.

FRA NOI: Where are the other offices in America?

VERNA: Houston, Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

FRA NOI: Tell me more about what you do in the Chicago office.

VERNA: We help manufacturers of capital machinery and equipment, automotive parts, and food and wine to the supermarket sector.

Through a special task force called Machines Italia, we coordinate the promotional activities in the U.S. of 16 Italian machinery manufacturing associations that represent more than 10,000 member companies. While many consumers in the U.S. are familiar with and appreciate Italian food, wine, sports cars, fashion, jewelry and other luxury items, not many are aware that Italy also produces incredible machinery to produce all of these products.

Federalimentare, the Italian Federation of Food and Beverages Producers, estimates that there are over $57 billion in “Italian-sounding” food and beverages sold worldwide each year. To that end, our office in Chicago has been partnering during the last seven years with a number of major U.S. supermarket chains to promote their selection of “Authentic Italian” food and wine. We have also created and manage ItalianPrivateLabel.com, which helps U.S. buyers source both food and non-food products to sell under a retailer’s brand.

And we help Italian publishers exhibit in major U.S. book trade shows. There, Italian publishers or editors meet their American counterparts and sell their rights to American companies. To that end, we created and manage Italbooks.com, a dedicated website promoting the Italian publishing sector.

FRA NOI: Do the companies export directly, or do they use import-export specialists?

VERNA: It depends on the sector.

If you want to sell wine in the U.S., there is a three-tier system: importer, distributor, retailer. U.S. laws do not allow a wine producer to sell directly to a retailer.

In the food sector, an Italian producer can sell directly to a retail chain, but we recommend that they initially work through an importer and distributor who can help them with product registration and certification, transport, customs clearance, warehousing and delivery to the retailer.

If you want to sell machinery, you’re better off doing it through an agent who can also offer service support. Some Italian companies decide to set up a branch office in the U.S. and bypass the traditional importer and distributor.

If you want to sell books, you have to exhibit at a trade exhibition to meet prospective buyers.

FRA NOI: Some family-owned Italian companies are quite small. How do they sell to American corporations?

VERNA: To sell their products in the U.S. market, they must conform to U.S. registrations and product certifications. We help them do that.

FRA NOI: Does ITA do promotional campaigns?

VERNA: Yes, we organize several Italian-themed promotions of authentic Italian food and wine with a number of major supermarket chains throughout the United States.

We teach U.S. consumers about real “Made in Italy” products. “Made in Italy” was, in 2016, the world’s third most recognizable brand, after Visa and Coca-Cola.

If you go to a supermarket and you find a cheese marked Parmesan and there’s an Italian flag, do you think you’re buying Italian? No, it’s fake. It’s made in America. We try to teach the American consumer how to recognize products made in Italy, and explain the benefits that make real Italian products special.

FRA NOI: How long will you be working in Chicago?

VERNA: I arrived in Chicago in September of last year. My sons wanted to come back to the United States. My wife wanted to go to Miami, but I chose Chicago because it’s a bigger office, and the ITA’s director general chose Chicago for me. Now my wife has fallen in love with Chicago. It’s wonderful like New York, but cleaner and more livable. My assignment is for a four-year period, so most likely I will be here through September 2025.

For details, click here.

The above appears in the September 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

 

About Pam DeFiglio

A lifelong writer. Pam DeFiglio works as an editor at the Chicago Tribune Media Group/Pioneer Press. She has won two Chicago Headline Club awards for previous work as an editorial writer and features writer at the Daily Herald. She also won National Federation of Press Women awards for Chicago Tribune news features on immigrants, and has worked in public relations at a university. She loves Italy and all things Italian, thanks to Nanna and a magnificent college year in Rome. She's grateful for all the people working to celebrate Italian culture in Chicago. Contact her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/pamdefiglio/

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