Inventing Marketplace Traditions: Memory and Materiality in the Case of Mulino Bianco and the Italian Breakfast (1975-1996)

This paper investigates the role of material practices and memory in establishing marketplace traditions (Hobsbawn & Ranger, 1983), addressing the call to contextualise rhetorical history (Lubinski 2018). It does so by looking at Italian breakfast, a meal based on coffee, milk and biscuits, created by the Italian bakery brand Mulino. The literature that looks at business studies on tradition and nostalgia has not yet explained how certain rhetorical narratives produced by organisations prevail over others, and how they become accepted by external stakeholders. This study aims to answer this question through a historical narrative analysis of unpublished documents from the Mulino Bianco archive in Parma. The analysis unfolds through two key moments in the establishment of this tradition: the development of a new kind of biscuit and the validation of this practice through a PR campaign. The contribution offered is that materiality allows firm-specific narratives to be accepted by external audiences. Artefacts link the history of the organisation with collective mnemonic assets by materialising them into social practices. Through this process, emotions like nostalgia become tangible. Moreover, organisations not only draw from existing mnemonic assets (Lubinski 2018) but they also create new ones. To conclude, this paper observes how invented traditions require novel material artefacts and mnemonic assets to become accepted, and to allow stakeholders to reproduce invented traditions as living ones.