Eataly remains committed to the in-house model – despite its widening global footprint

Eataly is expanding into Toronto, London and Dallas in the near future

Eataly’s growth has seen the Italian food hall-cum-restaurant space enter the South American, Asian and European markets in less than a decade. Despite the challenges posed by local nuances – and an amplified advertising budget – the brand’s chief marketer is unwavering in his commitment to the in-house model.

The brand began life in Italy’s Turin in 2007 but gained hype status three years later when its first New York City outpost caused a foodie line to form all the way down Fifth Avenue.

Since its inception – and through the opening of no less than 40 stores – the premise has remained the same: housing Italian restaurants, food counters and a market under one roof with a focus on culinary education and fresh, high-quality fare.

Despite stamping its logo across huge retail spaces from Tokyo or Toronto (the first Canadian store is opening its doors later this year), Eataly is categorically “not a chain”. That’s according to its vice-president of business strategy and marketing for North America, Ennio Perrone, who joined the company in 2017.

“In every place we open, we [observe] completely different customer behaviors,” he told The Drum. “We can never approach every store as one formula that goes everywhere else.

“We look at the layout and we start asking, what does the customer want? Who's going to be the customer in that city? How do they already understand Italian food? Then we start building our strategy, comms and everything that goes with it around [that insight].”

With such a commitment to localization, many brands would hire in local agencies for each opening. But while Eataly does occasionally outsource its marketing on a project basis (it declined to state which agencies it has and is working with), it is committed to keeping everything from planning to media buying in-house – even when the team is entering unchartered territory.

Working on a strategy from pre-launch helps its marketers discover and understand the nuances of each market, Perrone explained, while the process of international expansion can run at the fastest pace possible when he and his fellow marketing chiefs are not required to explain the “complexity” of Eataly’s offer, internal structure and abundance of stories at every RFP.

Eataly now employs a marketing staff of more than 50, who work between stores and head offices on advertising, brand partnerships, social media and PR, and ‘storytelling and creative’. The latter comprises content production, copywriting and graphic design.

“Our balance to maintain a local relevance and connection to the local community around our stores relies on having also a strong and empowered marketing team in every single store to keep it alive and highly energetic building experiences, events and activities and community relations,” Perrone later wrote in an email.

Eataly has recently ramped up its advertising to firmly cement its positioning as the place to solve just about every dining, hosting or cooking dilemma a consumer could face.

But beyond its current retail footprint, Eataly’s ultimate yet serious growth aspiration is to have a “store in every capital of the world”, a goal tied up in its drawn-out mission to IPO.

This means the company will have to truly perfect the art of making a “global brand locally relevant”, particularly to compete with the popularity of hyper-local street food markets, such as Smorgasburg in New York City and Dinerama in London.

It's a discipline Perrone believes is being imbibed by his in-house marketing team already.

“It will always be about ...having a strong organization at store level and strong management at corporate level, and making sure that our communication tools are always targeted at that local level,” he said.

“Other brands and industries ... [they] try to create an imaginary story and they go out and create a campaign. At Eataly it's the other way around – we have so many stories inside this one store. We need the best team to tell those stories in the right way, and no-one knows the stories better than we do.”

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