Italy is a destination spot known not only for its historical significance and architectural wonders but also for its culinary delights. The next best thing to experiencing Italian fare in its natural environment is bringing a taste of Italy to your own home.
The idea of contacting a supplier and importing goods directly from the source may be an avenue you’ve never considered; understandably so. It is far from the simplest of process. However, if you’re willing to learn the ropes, you could literally be opening yourself up to a world of new tastes and experiences. The best part is you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home. And when you import items yourself, you can dodge the astronomical markups of specialty stores and gourmet shops who have to ensure they make a profit.
The Basics of Importing Food to the United States
The United States is extremely protective of what comes into the country. This is partially a quality control issue, but also to mitigate the growing realities and risks of biological warfare and terrorism. These factors make importing food (beyond bringing personal quantities through customs yourself) an especially involved process. To help maintain American food standards, the import of food is under the purview of several government agencies to varying degrees.
Importing directly from a foreign country is rarely as easy as plugging in your credit card info and clicking ‘buy.’ Depending on the source of your goods, you may be responsible for more of the import/export process than you might be expecting. If you’re importing through a big company, they will likely have importing and exporting infrastructure in place. If you’re importing from an Italian mom and pop shop, you may need to help them register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), designate an American agent (probably you), and complete the Prior Notice process.
Prior Notice adds the Customs and Border Protection Agency to the mix and must be submitted no more than ten days prior to the arrival date of your shipment. No food imports the United States without Prior Notice.
Squaring away Prior Notice can become something of a logistical headache. It requires a level of specificity and accuracy that can be difficult to achieve without physical access to the item being shipped. It’s for this reason that a clear channel of communication with your Italian counterpart is so important. Complications like the language barrier and time zones only exacerbate the issue.
Products like PriorNotify from RudiCoder can save weeks of time and aggravation by automating large portions of the FDA compliance process. It also provides a communication tool that can be set to match the language native to the user.
As for fees, so long as the value of your shipped items remains under $2,500, you’ll only need to worry about the standard regulatory fees. If it exceeds $2,500, you’ll be responsible for duties. Duties vary based on the country of origin and are designed to help encourage buying domestic.
Importing Food from Italy
As with most countries in the European Union, Italy enjoys a friendlier trade agreement with the United States than you might find in other countries. In fact, Italy is one of the few countries from which the US will accept raw pork and (under certain circumstances) beef. All the same, the complexities inherent in importing food from any country still apply.
The leading Italian food exports are unlikely to be a surprise to most. Wine and beer top the list, followed by olive oil, cheese, processed red meats (charcuterie), and coffee. In fact, 2.1% of Italy’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from agricultural export. Then there are the Italian delicacies like gelato, truffles, and caviar that have all seen increases in import rates over the past few years.
There’s more to international importation than just rules and regulations.
The exporting countries culture is an integral part of forging and maintaining profitable relationships. For example, getting to know your supplier beyond your transaction and understanding Italian business culture can go a long way in smoothing out the cooperative aspects of the transaction.
Even the area of the country in which your supplier is located can affect the success of your shipment. You shouldn’t have a transportation problem with suppliers from major cities. However, there are tons of little mountain towns and dicey roads that can make transport of goods dubious.
A favorable diplomatic relationship makes the United States one of Italy’s chief trade partners. In 2017, only Germany and France received more exports from Italy than the US. Considering the geographical logistics of crossing the Atlantic and the other notable nations actually in the EU (meaning relaxed duties and tariffs), this is not an insignificant statistic.
Food importation is not for the faint of heart. However, for those intrepid enough to embark on the venture, the potential rewards can be quite sweet…or savory, depending on your preferences. Much of the paperwork and registration can be streamlined with clear channels of communication between you and your supplier, and well-organized information through technology such as PriorNotify.
The relationships you build with suppliers is of particular importance when doing business in Italy. When it comes to successful transactions, understanding cultural mores and avoiding faux pas is almost as important as dotting ‘I’s’ and crossing ‘t’s’ on registration forms\