Just back from another midweek in the city … with a video chronicle of a visit to Eataly:
The pizza this time around remained quite flavorful, but was way too wet and soggy to get a two thumbs up. Gone are the two immigrant Italians behind the glimmering gold pizza ovens. Le sigh. Perhaps, like many restaurants, Eataly struggles to train and retain talent? The take-out window cashier was friendly and attentive, as was the man who teased us about having walked right out of an alarmed door without notice. The cashiers in the front, however, were as surly as the teens at their summer jobs here in West Philly. Too bad. If my mind weren’t filled with memories of visits to Eataly in Italy, I’m not sure I’d “get” the Eataly concept here. My recent visits have left me somewhat dissatisfied.
I’m quite curious to learn about Eataly NYC’s business strategy. The restaurants are clearly a huge hit, but do they intend at all to build a market of people who will actually shop there for more than a novelty food experience now and again? a market of people who learn to appreciate – and thus pay a premium for – Italian food culture? How is the NYC store a place where you can “buy, eat and learn” all things Italian? Where’s the value innovation? Are they losing in translation Eataly’s core mission? My last few visits lead me to think that they are.
Eataly is running now a Facebook campaign which asks customers to compare two products, choosing which pasta/honey/etc. is “best”, for example. To Oscar Farinetti and Italian Slow Food enthusiasts, all products steeped in artisanal traditions are worthy of praise, so there is pleasure to be found in all the pasta/honey/etc. that Eataly stocks. When they guarantee that all the choices in the store are high quality, what’s the point of trying to play a silly little game in defining what’s best? A game better aligned with Eataly’s core values might be a scavenger hunt promoting a spirit of discovery in their shelves. Create demand for Eataly’s products by appealing to people’s desire to discover Italian food culture. The ethos of Eataly, and of Slow Food, is this.
In the American supermarket, small scale and artisanal food producers don’t stand a chance of competing in a marketplace driven purely by profit, where barcode data not only defines product placement on prime shelf or endcap space but also determines the ‘mainstream’, thus limiting choices for all. Is Eataly NYC pitting one product against another in an effort to determine what might be ‘worthy’ of shelf space? I noticed they now devote quite a lot of shelf space to Barilla pasta, for example, which I cannot imagine occupying shelf space in an Italian Eataly. Perhaps Eataly NYC is just trying to offer something recognizable to its customers…
Anyway, I’m simply taking issue with what I see to be the Americanization of the Eataly brand. It seems to me that the consumer experience Eataly NYC is promoting – either mindfully or unknowingly – strays a bit too far from Eataly Italia’s core mission. I want Eataly NYC to be a place where anyone can buy, eat and learn all things Italian. Segmenting the market for tourists and upper middle income customers represents a lost opportunity for everyone else who deeply enjoys exploring Italian food culture. Sadly, each trip I make to Eataly NYC disappoints more than pleases.
What never disappoints, though, are Guido Gobino’s giandujottino tourinots. I know of no one else selling them offline, so I’m sure I’ll be back to Eataly sooner or later to get a little fix. Perhaps, by then, someone in a leadership role at Eataly NYC will have thought deeply about Blue Ocean Strategy.