We have 74 associations throughout Italy in different towns. Our members represent 16-18,000 different firms. It is a challenging market, with changing demands the latest of which is salt reduction. But there is also the challenge of frozen breads, which the French have tackled well. Now we are fighting back too.
"But first let me tell you about salt. At the moment the permitted level is 2% on flour and 1.36% on finished products. We are making a 5% reduction every year for three years amounting to 15%. From 1 June this year our members have been encouraged to offer some breads with a 50% reduction at the same price, so customers can choose.
"However, there are a number of challenging issues facing our bakers salt is just one. Italy was one of the best countries in Europe for making bread, but now, with frozen breads, how do you know who made it? We are petitioning the government for strict rules. In Naples, they have already agreed that frozen breads must be sold wrapped. The distinction needs to be that craft bread is unwrapped.
"Another challenge is the age of bakers and their experience. We have older bakers and we are succeeding in attracting younger people into the profession, but there is a gap that falls in the middle generation. Bakery is hard work and there used to be a feeling that it did not pay enough. But now many young people do not want to spend years studying and are coming back to bakery. The pay is better and good bread is even more esteemed.
"The best thing is that young bakers become good friends; we encourage this with competitions and social events. That way they can share the challenges of dough, pastry and cake-making as well as the challenges of life. We are also launching nine new colleges to improve bakery skills. They will be dedicated only to bakery and confectionery. Other colleges also offer bakery, so it is now available in the 20 regions of Italy where they train mainly 14- to 19-year-olds.
"Our key role is to help bakers modernise and extend their range of products. We offer advice and demonstrations and we lobby governments and councils on behalf of bakers on everything from parking to business rates and planning laws.
"Fresh bread, though, is key to who we are and what our members do. We are trying to get new laws introduced on fresh breads 85% is still craft production.
"I was a baker myself and I know how bakers care about their breads, pastries and cakes. There is much to do for this wonderful profession."