Simona Riccio mixes a deep expertise in the agri-food industry (she has a penchant for organic farming) with well-rounded skills as a social media manager and the commitment of an innovation evangelist. She lives and works in Turin.

Which is the role of digital transformation in the agri-food industry?

In my opinion, the role of digital transformation in the agri-food industry is fundamental as far as development, innovation, and our future are concerned. There is a motto by Marshall McLuhan which has ushered me into the world of communication since the university years: «the new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village». The two terms seem to contradict each other: a village is the elementary form of human society, whilst the adjective global refers to the entire planet: a clash between two worlds, or between a past and a future. The meaning of all this is obviously symbolic, but how could we not be awestruck if only we think of how huge most distances looked, back in the old days?

Nowadays, thanks to the progress in communications, everything is closer, within reach, accessible far and wide; even in real time. Unlike yesterday, thanks to new tools, technology, and innovation, today we can respond almost immediately to novel needs and to the needs of new generations: (almost) always, the information we are looking for is just a click away; and a click is (almost) all we need to “talk” with the rest of the world. The ability to search, share, learn, compare, and much more, amongst people all over the world and in real time, is crucial for innovation.

How can we preserve traditional Italian craftmanship and our millenary know-how through the digital age?

I believe that we are living a historical moment. People love to go back to the traditions of our territories, which are made of culture, art, music, gastronomy, food, wine, and grandmother’s recipes. They love to discover the products and ingredients that our land offers us, and which were used by our grandparents or great-grandparents. Sometimes they love to modernize the old recipes, a bit like what happens with music. Making this journey thanks to technology (and therefore living the digital age at its fullest) can only give excellent results.

Let us just think of how powerful the World Wide Web is and of what McLuhan taught us: everything that could once be shared amongst few individuals (and close to each other) can now be shared globally. The World Wide Web is itself a powerful metaphor, or even the most meaningful incarnation, of globalization; it is, therefore, a fundamental tool for “diving deep” into the past on a global level, interacting in an innovative way with new renaissances, bringing our cultural heritage to life once again, and above all allowing for novel reformulations of old traditions (which amounts to saving them).

Now, about the “Made in Italy” brand. How can we wrap an effective storytelling around Italian products, and how can we protect them? Is digital transformation going to help us?

Good questions! Let’s start with the first one. I am sure that the “Italian brand” is neither promoted nor protected adequately, both by agricultural companies and by distributors. Unfortunately, the managerial culture in Italy is not fully ready for digital transformation, as too many decision makers have yet to understand that delivering communication and storytelling of “Made in Italy” in the virtual places where people spend more and more of their time is the only way for the agri-food industry to survive. There is plenty of statistical data which suggest that most foreigners lack a good knowledge of Italy, not because they are too lazy to study, but simply because good informational contents are hard to find.

More explicitly, as long as companies do not understand that it is of paramount importance to allocate adequate budget for digital communication and for training of internal resources by professionals, there will be no brand protection and there will be no real storytelling. The digital transformation can only do us good. After all, what is our smartphone but an extension of our arm? I could easily rattle off data about how many times we take the phone in our hands to search for information, but if the information is not provided by anyone, how can the device help us? As always, there is a gap to be filled and education and training are the true enablers.

How can we develop a sustainable development model, alternative to the “intensive” exploitation economy typical of North Atlantic countries? How can we restore Italy back into a pivotal role in the Mediterranean Sea?

Worldwide, many start-ups are committed to innovation in the agri-food industry, with social, environmental, and economic sustainability goals: for example, they seek solutions to world hunger and food waste, novel ways to produce and consume more efficiently, a better distribution of water and electricity, or responsible tourism. In Italy, however, there are too few of them, and they specialize in precision agriculture, in platforms for the disposal of surplus and for waste reduction, of in promotion of local products.

It is of course crucial for businesses to invest in innovation in order to be successful, but what happens when a company cannot afford to do that? Well, it should be granted access to bank credit at affordable prices. If all the right conditions happen simultaneously, that is, if companies are willing to innovate, the institutions are ready to support them, the banking system is able to finance, then a fertile ground will develop for businesses to create value within a global supply chain. In this scenario, the digital tools can provide support, and the new generations will hopefully mark a difference and win back the central role we deserve.

Simona, you whetted our curiosity… would you like to tell us something more about your professional journey?

I have been working for the last twenty years for an Italian company that sells organic food. In the meantime, I graduated in International Communication and Advertising at the University of Perugia, and later on I earned a Master’s degree in Social Media Marketing. Afterwards, my passion for digital media begun to cross-fertilize my commitment with the agri-food industry and… it was love at first sight. I take pride in perusing market analysis which I believe are crucial if we want to understand the industry thoroughly, seeking to anticipate the needs of your customers.

I have always done my best to share everything about my projects, case studies, insights, perspectives (and more) through social networks, aiming at becoming over the years a point of reference for my industry. Above all, I have spared no effort to evolve as a professional who does not only delves into critical issues, but also suggests opportunities that companies, even minor ones, must learn to seize in order to thrive and not be pushed out of the market. All this material that I have collected and shared over the years is now available through my blog, which after six months’ work is finally online! Needless to say, I write about Made in Italy, traditional and organic agriculture, innovation, social networks, blockchain, and of course digital communication.