How Biscuits Became Italian: The Fleeting Nature of Country of Origin Effect

This working paper looks at the trajectory of biscuits between 1850s and 1930s, showing how biscuits have entered the Italian marketplace as an English commodity, and how they have then been nationalised as an Italian product, giving rise to a national market and a new understanding of this commodity. This paper contributes to business history literature by providing novel data that illustrate how Italian companies entered the global bakery market by imitating English products, and how this in turn affected the national market. Castro and Saiz (2019) suggest that country of origin is, along with nation branding, an answer to globalisation, and both have a ‘sweeping away’ potential towards local brands. This paper attempts a slightly different approach by looking at how the Italian bakery industry emerged and structured by appropriating the British know how and the premium associated with the country of origin. This theorisation is supported by mostly unpublished data collected in Italy about Italian bakery businesses at the turn of the 19th century. These data allow a discussion of the evolution of the Italian bakery business, focusing on the first brands who imported the British know-how and leveraged on the country of origin effect of British bakery. In doing so, this paper takes the perspective of the Italian marketplace to observe how the influence of foreign technologies and consumer culture changed the national bakery industry and the penetration of biscuits consumption. Moreover, it contributes to the discussion on internal business by showing how the country of origin is not a stable asset, as shown by a progressive nationalisation of biscuits in the Italian consumption pattern that eclipsed the British heritage.