In 1972 Giancarlo Panizza, the current president of Il Gigante, joined 29 other commercial associates together to open the Italian firm’s first retail outlet. It was a new type of shop preceding the modern hypermarkets. More than thirty years later Il Gigante has six hypermarkets, 14 supermarkets and 8 discount stores throughout Lombardy.
Erminio Bonalumi, fruit and vegetable buyer for the Il Gigante supermarkets, told Fruit Today that the firm is always at the forefront and because of this “has always been admired and even copied by competitors. In fact, our current president was the instigator of the idea of selling self-service fruit and vegetables by weight. This service is now found in most supermarkets.”
A characteristic of Il Gigante is the value it places on the quality of the product and customer service. Because of this, whereas in a normal supermarket the average number of employees tends to be five, in the Il Gigante stores there are eight. Through the excellent customer service the aim is to give added value to the product.
As Bonalumi says, “fruit and vegetables are extremely important in our shops. They make up some 9 to 10% of total sales. We always give precedence to the Italian product over others and we look for the best quality”. The prepared product also carries considerable weight in the Italian supermarket. “The prepared range provides 9% of the volume of vegetable sales but it is insignificant in fruit because it is still very expensive. As regards biological products the incidence is very low, around 2%, but the consumers are very determined and loyal because they are clear about what they want to eat.”
The Italian market has experienced a drop in consumption of fresh products in recent years. The arrival of the euro has caused a considerable loss in buying power. “Many people cannot last to the end of the month and the first thing to be sacrificed is fresh produce. Il Gigante’s price policy aims to provide access to fresh, quality to products to all consumers.”
Bonalumi complains that whenever the Italian economic situation is bad the mass media attacks agriculture and lays the blame on the high price of vegetables. “To say that a country’s economic crisis is due to the price of fruit and vegetables is ridiculous and incomprehensible. Many prices are the same as five years ago. Fruit and vegetables come in many varieties and different qualities, so consumers can buy what they like at various prices for the same variety and they always become the emblem of the cost of living”.
As regards citrus, this is the first year that Il Gigante has worked with the Valencian firm Briofruits. Previously it bought products from Sicily and Calabria. Spain tends to be the first port of call for the Italian firm when the national product is scarce or not of the desired quality.
Il Gigante has its own platform within the market of Milan. “In this way we can guarantee that there will always be products in our shops”. Il Gigante’s volume of sales in the market of Milan reaches around 50 million euros.