Roberto Stocconi has run the tiny Trattoria Gioia Mia in central Rome for 42 years, but he’s never seen anything like it. “The speculation, the inflation, the cost of the products… It’s the worst situation I’ve ever known,” he says of the rise in pasta prices following the war in Ukraine.
The rising cost of energy, fuel, runaway inflation, global commodity market turmoil and last year’s poor wheat harvest. And the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, two of the world’s largest wheat exporters.
All this adds up to a cocktail of ingredients that terrifies both the producers of Italian pasta, one of the emblems of the transalpine country, as well as the restaurateurs and consumers of this dish which is part of the daily diet of all Italians.
“Before the war, there was already a perfect storm. Now it’s a tsunami”, they denounce
International relations professor Igor Pellicciari is clear: he promises that he spent half his salary buying spaghetti. In case. “Before the war, we already defined the situation as a perfect storm because there had been an increase in durum wheat semolina – the ingredient with which pasta is made. This had created great problems, due to the scarcity of harvests. Now, with this situation, with the prices of energy, transport and packaging, it’s no longer a storm, it’s a tsunami”, deplores Cristiano Laurenza, secretary general of the association of Italian pasta producers.
The war in Ukraine does not directly affect the production of Italian pasta because the weight of this country and that of Russia is extremely marginal in the imports of durum wheat necessary for the preparation of the favorite food of the Italians. In 2021, Italy did not buy durum wheat from Ukraine and from Russia it acquired a quantity which represents less than 3% of imports and less than 1% of the needs of pasta manufacturers. It is different in the case of soft wheat, used to make bread, candy or pizza. Here, the conflict has direct effects since Ukraine is one of its main producers.
“The increase in pasta prices will be due to the increase in packaging and energy. For the mills to work, a lot of electricity is needed,” explains Andrea Pasini, director of the cereals sector of the Italian Agricultural Consortium (CAI).
To all this were added the strikes of some transporters which paralyzed the motorways in Italy and led to the generation of alarm in a sector which had already suffered from the rise in product prices in recent months. The problem is that the price of durum wheat rose by 80% last year due to climate change and bad harvests, the accumulation of reserves in certain powers and international speculation. There are manufacturers who risk closing, warn representatives of the sector. A big company like Divella threatened to stop production. In March, Italian inflation rose to 6.7%, figures not seen for more than 30 years.
“It’s the worst situation I’ve ever been in,” says restaurant owner in Rome
On the street, most restaurants still don’t charge more for the food they serve but complain that after the pandemic closures it was the last thing they needed. Mario, who has another trattoria near the touristy Trevi Fountain, says they are maintaining prices from a decade ago, but he says pasta is up more than 50%. “We are not thinking of raising prices because there are not so many tourists, it would be suicide,” he said. I’d rather not make any money and at least keep paying my employees.
According to Laurenza, it remains to be seen what will happen to the next harvests. If they are also deficient, they will have a serious problem. “It’s not raining and that’s a concern,” he said. In Italy there are about 120 companies, many of which are centuries-old and family-run, that produce pasta. A total of 10,273 workers depend on this sector. “They are going through an unprecedented crisis,” insists the Unione Italiana Food association.