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Eataly “Eat by learning”- Interview with Alessia Rossino

eataly firenze

Eataly is a large Italian marketplace made up of a variety of restaurants, food and beverage counters, bakery, retail and a cooking school. They have locations in Italy, the US, and ten other countries across the globe. The Circular spoke to Alessia Rossino, Education Manager for Eataly Florence, about her role, the concept of ‘eat by learning’, slow food and the future of the company.

Eataly Firenze
Eataly Firenze- Photo credit of Russ Powderly

Can you describe your role?

I am in charge of educational activities. Eataly is based on three macro-areas: sales, catering, and the area of teaching and events. I am responsible for all teaching inputs including free laboratories for primary schools that we offer in the morning. As part of our free activities, we do workshops, especially cooking. This relates to birthday parties with mini kitchen laboratories, recreational and summer activities. We have a series of activities with the students because in Florence there are about 50 American universities with students who are in Florence for three to six months and we do private tasting tours with them. We offer business model lessons and cooking lessons. We teach adult courses and we have about two per week. In the Florence store, I take care of staff training. Eataly is about 11 years old and it is now a multinational company, therefore there are internal staff training programs. We work with people with different profiles and we need to provide a strong knowledge of our product, our brand, and its values. We need staff who are capable of providing food-related information. The focus of our activity is on food and in-depth knowledge is needed.

Who came up with the idea of free food tasting classes and free learning activities for children and retired people?

The idea of free learning activities was born in 2007. Since the first store opened it has been directed toward children and retirees. In Florence, it is mostly for children, but in larger stores, they also organize activities for retired people. The children have the option of such activities in the morning. We have four different workshops, in which they play games related to the world of food. For example, one game is called “game of the farm” and the other “the game of chicken”, where they have to pass a series of tests in order to learn which food is consumed seasonally. This game teaches the value associated with the concept of ‘slow food’. We have a workshop for children from eight to 10 years that teaches them about critically reading product labels. Therefore, it helps them recognize products and quality brands. We offer an educational chocolate tasting workshop and learn how to taste it according to different smell and taste parameters. We have simplified tasting charts and we tell the whole story of the cocoa, the plant, the history of the countries from which it comes, the flower and the fruit. We try to introduce them to the world of chocolate. Created by our founder, Oscar Farinetti, Eataly is a commercial reality. Whilst gaining a profit is a focus, it is also concerned with the teaching of good values. The goal is to transmit a message, a story about the immense richness of food and wine that exists in Italy and children are a perfect vehicle to deliver this message. During the free activities, we also give them free snacks, including the organic bread of our bakery, which is stone-milled. There is no cost for the school. Our goal is to spread a greater knowledge of good food practices and wealth in terms of the products we have in Italy. For this reason, Eataly decided not to make them pay, it was considered more important to spread a good message. This is according to our slogan “We do good things”, it is better rather than making a profit from these activities.

Is the concept of Slow Food in contrast with the idea of fast food?

The Slow food Association is considered our strategic consultant because from the beginning it has helped Eataly in choosing producers. Many association members along with our staff went to visit producers and farmers to select the best ones. We have producers related to the slow food association with this quality recognition. Slow Food tries to safeguard production types in danger of extinction and we have many products unique and essential. Each month has a theme. The theme of April is the vegetable garden. We have made an agreement with ‘slow food’ to get a consultation on seeds. We have made ‘slow food’ help us in the descriptive and didactic part. These three areas: sales, learning, and eating, are connected to each other. Regarding the quality and history the seeds, there is an active collaboration with slow food. The association describes the ancient variegated recipes in this sense opposed to the fast food concept. We have two “fast and casual restaurants” in this regard, given that they target tourists who often have little time. We have to adapt our model with fast food but with quality products. We have adapted all our concepts of quality with the need for catering faster, but with no compromise on the quality of the product. In this, we are very close to the philosophy of Slow Food. We are close to the protection of small producers, with their ancient traditions. It can be food served fast but the high quality of the product is not up for discussion.

Eataly, Photo credit of Thomas Hawk

Is Eataly stronger in Italy or abroad?

This is a good question! Very strong abroad because the concept of ‘made in Italy’ is very strong. In general, it is recognized in Italy we eat very well and we have many quality products – Eataly is a bit like the spokesperson for this. When Oscar Farinetti had the idea to open the first store he had an innovative idea that in the same place you could eat, buy and learn. But now there are many competitors in Italy. There are many places where you can buy and eat and sometimes you have the chance to learn. The original format was created by Eataly, so we try to distinguish ourselves but we do not compromise on quality. Our products can cost a little more, but there is a wholly unique story behind them. There is the particular figure, the personal shopper person, who tells the complete history of the products to the customer. Perhaps abroad, in the city where Eataly has opened, like Los Angeles and New York, this format it is still very strong, but in Italy, there are more competitors, so it may be more difficult.

Are you also considering Ireland?

We will open in London next year, so one step at a time.

You take care of the training of your staff. Why is it important to train employees on the value of the company?

It is important to explain our brand values because it is a format that is not easy to understand. When somebody enters our store if they do not know the company they can be confused. It is not always easy to understand our main slogan “Eat by learning”. If someone is welcomed by a member of the Eataly team who is able to direct them towards different possibilities, who speaks about what we do, talks about the events and the history and quality of the products, it is better. Our literature and labeling tell the story of our suppliers, companies of ancient tradition. This is the real added value: the ability to tell the story of the product and it is important staff members are trained. If there is someone who intervenes to explain, for example, the difference between Tuscan and Ligurian olive oil – just to give an example – it can be a valuable help in the purchase. The personal shopper role is not to create profit and making a pitch for the customer, but it is to explain the history of the product, the importance of the difference of what we offer. We always do customer tasting, the client has the pleasure of sampling a piece before purchasing it. Tasting can help you decide according to your needs, if you need a unique cheese for a dinner or want to bring it to your country of origin. It is fundamental staff are knowledgeable about our products. Our business is based on the quality of our products – it is critical we provide this information to our customers.

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