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Food industry profits outperform other sectors despite crisis

by Marco Biscella

Italian agribusiness has recently demonstrated greater profitability ratios than other types of companies and positive profits thanks to the driving force of exports outside of the EU, and the positive effect of Milano Expo 2015, the Universal Exposition that focused on sustainable agriculture.

Part of the credit is due a bet on quality and on sustainable development. And even in an era of jobless recovery, the food world is changing skin, focusing its attention and the search for labor on skilled professions and soft skills.

The 2015 Report by the Fondazione Obiettivo Lavoro plumbs the Italian food industry -- a sector that generated 4% of the GDP in 2014 -- concentrating its analysis on two sides.

One is the performance of the companies, the innovation and sustainability (the drivers of growth); the other being the job market and the sector's need for professionalism.

Regarding the economic performance of Italian agribusiness companies, the report revealed that “the enterprises in the sector, although not immune to crisis, managed to get through it, expanding the range of products and services and focusing on quality, and on being competitive in new global markets,” explains Mario Mezzanzanica, scientific director of CRISP.

“The analysis of company balance sheets highlights how the enterprises of the agribusiness sector, historically characterized by lower efficiency and profitability indicators, show growing ROI, ROE and profits in recent years, greater than other types of companies,” explained Mezzanzanica.

“And the outlook remains positive. Interviewing a sample of companies in the industry, it emerged that 80% achieved innovations of their product and/or their process in order to achieve economic performance and respect of the environment and that 97% of the enterprises intend to introduce sustainable innovations in the next three years,” he continued.

The innovations are mostly concerning processes such as the use of renewable energy, recycling and reuse of materials, the introduction of technologies that can reduce energy consumption, product waste and pollution.

But there was also no lack of product innovations, starting from those which help to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and the replacement of some polluting components with raw materials characterized by greater environmental sustainability.

The report identifies the new types of hires required by the changes taking place. The approach keeps the web in mind as it is an increasingly widespread channel used by companies and people for posting job announcements and searches -- through the analysis of job listings from February 2013 to June 2015: in all, more than 26,000 (+15% compared to the previous period).

The largest share of jobs (60%) belongs to the food service sector; followed by commerce (21%) and the food and beverage industry (16%).

“The prevalent trend,” Mezzanzanica observes, “is the search for skilled and technical professions, as required by the improvement of production processes, and crafts, capable of assuring the highest quality of the product. In the classifieds, soft skills are increasingly sought after, as they are related to personal qualities rather than knowledge and skills, and knowledge of foreign languages.”