Forget about globalization and stereotypes. Focus on regionalization.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015, by Eliane Karsaklian

regionalAlthough we see many of the same brands everywhere around the world, consumers seem to have a more roving eye when it comes to food and dining experiences. Twenty years ago, the trend was ethnic food. People went to Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and Greek restaurants. Then a new trend emerged with “fusion cuisine” in which two different food nationalities were mixed in the same plate. Over the years, international consumption has moved from regional to national to global and now is back to regional. All for the sake of differentiation.

Italian restaurants are everywhere around the world now and they are often viewed as inexpensive, fast and predictable. They sell pizza and pasta and are often places where there are few or even no Italian staff at all. In this context, we can observe a way back to regionalism as a differentiation strategy. As such, instead of displaying their ‘italianism’ some restaurants promote food from specific regions in Italy. Tuscany appetizers are served on a rooftop in Melbourne, Australia; Roman sandwiches are eaten at Spianata in London; Pulia in London cooks up food from Puglia. Their positioning is not ‘we are Italian’, it is ‘we are from a specific region of Italy and so we are different’.

It is remarkable that Italian food, having been so globalized (stereotyped) and desired worldwide, arrives at such a saturation that the country of origin has to be asserted by other types of authenticity. The regional authenticity.

The new regional concepts are different. At Pulia in London, for instance, there are no pictures of Italy, or Italian music. There is nothing that screams Italian stereotypes. The restaurant’s authenticity, and thus appeal, originates from the taste and the aroma of their home made food and the highly skilled and welcoming Italian staff. The facilities are set up for people to feel at home, rather than in an Italian restaurant. The food is served in small portions and presented like a delicatessen. It is not about pizza and pasta. It is a strategic choice with huge potential.

Regionalism is a way of challenging stereotypes. It might please some customers thanks to novelty, and it might have some others disappointed because of the lack of stereotypes. Here we are again playing with the bright and the dark side of stereotypes.