Petrini: “I’ll Explain to You How Monini
Olive Oil Conquered the U.S.”
The president of Monini North America speaks
to La Voce about its success, but also about the complexities
tied to exporting Italian olive oil to America.
From when it was established in 2000, Monini USA
has reached remarkable objectives, such as having expanded
distribution -- something no longer limited to the food
service industry. However, exporting Italian oil to
America also means confronting challenges and difficulties,
such as phenomena like “Italian sounding”
or adulteration. But for Marco Petrini, the key is to
aim towards quality and transparency. With perseverance.
A career that began with studying in the United States
at Boston College, then returning to Italy to oversee
family-run businesses. Marco Petrini – a Roman
by birth, but of an Umbrian family — is from 2000
the president of Monini North America, the historical
Italian business that produces oil, founded in Spoleto
in 1920. After 18 years on American soil, Monini has
grown and has conquered new market shares in the American
market, a very complex and often difficult to penetrate.
Marco Petrini speaks to La Voce di New York about the
difficulties, but also the results, tied to exporting
Italian oil, confronting phenomena like “Italian
sounding” and adulteration. “Aiming towards
quality, informing consumers, and being persistent”,
are the order of the day for Petrini.
How will Monini be in 20 years?
“A consolidated brand that has reached great results,
but that knows that it still can — and must —
grow, especially in the American market”.
From 2000, the year in which Monini USA was
established, you took on the role of President. Since
then, what have been the goals reached and the strategies
that have been adopted?
“Surely the most important ones have
been that of expanding distribution in major American
cities, that before was limited to the food service
industry, and today instead includes large retailers
and specialty stores. The strategies that we have adopted
have mainly been those tied to local initiatives, tastings.
For several years, we have also been affiliated with
some of the cooking shows hosted by Lidia Bastianich
and other talented American chefs. We are also promoting
and conducting oil tasting courses in culinary schools
to create awareness regarding the knowledge and the
use of Italian olive oil”.
What are the main complexities regarding the
“The complexities are tied most of all
to culture. When you say the United States of America,
you’re talking about 50 states, each different
from the other, and that have different food cultures
from our Mediterranean culture. If on the East Coast,
especially in New York, more knowledge and information
exist — even if often a bit misled regarding Made
in Italy – but there are also areas which remain
virtually untouched in the country, like the West Coast,
the South, the Midwest. In these areas, which are more
distant from the Mediterranean food culture, we must
work more to create awareness and inform consumers on
how to use olive oil and what its benefits are”.
Marco Petrini (left) and the team
There are two aspects regarding olive oil that
are hindering commerce and information: “Italian
sounding” and adulteration. How are you confronting
“With quality. The Monini company has
never compromised when it came to the aspect of quality.
Our extra virgin olive oil is a competitive product
with regard to pricing, but it will not fold on quality.
The “Italian sounding” phenomena must be
tackled using information, with tenacity and continuity,
in a market such as the American one, which often allows
itself to be guided solely by pricing if the product
is unknown. I advise consumers to be suspicious of extra
virgin olive oils sold at $5 a bottle because in that
case you’re dealing with oils that have been modified
by blending other oils in the product, therefore changing
its color and taste profile”.
In your opinion, have Italian and American
establishments done – and do – all that
is possible to hinder the “Italian sounding”
“They have, and they are, doing more
in these past years if we consider the campaigns that
have been set forth by the Italian Trade Commission
in the United States, the journalistic probes, the FDA
inspections that do not allow – when performed
– any adulterated oils to pass through. We need
to work with perseverance, aiming at information, at
quality. We as a company do all that is possible to
convey a product that is tied to Italian tradition,
The Monini company was established in 1920
by Zefferino Monini and today it continues its activities
with a new generation. What are the elements of continuity
compared to the past, and how does an historical company
such as this one continue to innovate itself?
“Certainly, the first 40 years of the
Monini company were dedicated to a regional presence,
quickly aiming at extra virgin olive oil right from
the beginning — which is the most difficult product
to produce but also the healthiest. Starting from the
1970s, Monini oil spread at a national level and became,
in the extra virgin category, the market leader. At
the end of the 1990s, we opened up to the European markets
and finally, in 2000, we arrived in the United States.
The continuity is represented by the respect for tradition
and the raw material, but above all, by the quality
that has remained at the highest level. Today, Monini
allocates 35% of its production to exports: Europe is
at the head, with countries such as Poland, Russia,
Switzerland, but also the United States, Canada and
Asia. We are also growing well in China. In 2001, Monini
invested in Australia, in New South Wales, acquiring
700 hectares of land in which 300 are allocated for
cultivation. We have established a modern olive grove
with 110 thousand plants of Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino
and Coratina, which were brought over as young plants
In the United States, how is consumption of
your oil distributed geographically?
“The East Coast absorbs 30% of our United States
exports, with cities such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia
at the head. In North America, 60% of our production
is distributed to retail, while 40% to the food service
industry. Before, we were present almost exclusively
100% in the food service industry, which is the primary
lead industry if you want to begin breaking into foreign
markets. Today, other cities, such as Chicago, are in
net growth — or even Los Angeles. In the future,
we are aiming at smaller markets, in more rural areas”.
What are the error that Italian companies often
make when they wish to enter the US market with their
“Companies often arrive in the United
States thinking that it will be an easy win because
the company is already consolidated in Italy. Many arrive
in America with an Italian approach, but you have to
remember that this country has different rules, and
above all, a different culture. The most important thing
is to remember that the Untied States does not represent
one market, but different markets, from Florida to Portland,
from the East Coast to the West – they are all
states, areas, with different mentalities and cultures,
where you must convey the product with different messages
and strategies. I advise, if you want to be successful
in America, to survey the various geographical areas
— explore them, get to know them, aim at continuity,
understand how the mentality works, and don’t
ever get discouraged”.
How does Monini defend the Made in Italy merchandise
mark and what will the brand look like in 20 years?
“Our brand has always been characterized
by the production of extra virgin olive oil, at 95%.
Since being present in the United States, we do not
make an ad hoc product for the American market. Our
oil arrives directly from Italy – we do not have
a plant in the United States, except for our business
headquarters that manages sales and inventory. The products
that are sold on the shelves in Italy, in Europe, are
the same products that arrive in the United States.
Our product is authentic, of quality. We do not compromise
on the quality to satisfy the pockets of American consumers
that want to spend less. In 20 years from now, I imagine
– and hope – Monini will be a consolidated
brand that has reached great results, but that can and
must still grow, especially in the American market”.
The Monini North America Team.
What are the guidelines for the American consumer
that is not familiar with you and wishes to purchase
Italian olive oil?
“The American market is a complex one
where there are 4 times as many product choices in comparison
to what you find on supermarket shelves in Italy. Sometimes
you get confused in a supermarket when faced with so
many product choices of the same category. Unfortunately,
sometimes consumers make a choice based on the appearance
of the bottle, often portraying a beautiful image and
claim, and it is here that ‘Italian sounding’
is damaging. Only correct information – including
understanding the origin of the product ad authenticity
of the brand– can assist the consumer in choosing
a product based on its quality”.
What do you aim at to set yourselves apart
from your competitors?
“Quality and the history of the company
always remain strong, and today we’re aiming at
the Italian regional mono-cultivar, spanning a trend
that is beginning in the United States. Monini presents
itself on the American market with regional cultivars,
such as the Sicilian Nocellara del Belice, the Tuscan
Frantoio, and the Coratina from Puglia”.
You have a long carrier in the export and sales
industry. You studied at Boston College and the Monini
company chose you as president of its US company. In
what way have you made use of your experience and educational
“My studies in marketing and human resources
at Boston College certainly allowed me to be trained
in America and to become familiar with its system from
a young age. After completing my college degree at Boston
College, I returned to Italy to work for family-run
businesses, and for a year I also worked for Johnson
& Johnson. I entered to become part of the Monini
company in 1993 as an Export Sales Manager, and in 2000
the company wanted me to oversee the American market
in the role of president of Monini USA. A great satisfaction
for me, having been part of the growth of this company
in such a key export market.