Now, you might think this is condescending, but far from it. Like sending McDonald's to Moscow, burgers to Beijing, or Twinkies to Tokyo, it's called new business development or market expansion.
In this case, an Italian company called Montalbano Agroalimentare, based in the heart of Tuscany some 20 miles from Florence, markets a range of minimally processed, locally grown foods (vegetable sauces, marinated mushrooms, olives, artichoke hearts, bruschetta toppings, and so on), most of them packed in transparent, 7-ounce glass jars.
To help expand their sales to new markets, they hired a communications agency called Neom, which kept Montalbano's "look" but created an essentially new brand for the Arabic market. Along the way, certification by Halal Italy and the Halal Internationa Autority. And a new, more international slogan: "Flavors of Rome" to emphasize the high value of Italian luxury goods.
This isn't as farfetched as it sounds: southern Italy is a close neighbor of northern Africa; from Sicily, Tunis is closer than Naples. We'll keep you posted on the results of their work.
(Parenthetically: Neom, with four offices across northern Italy, is the same agency that handles two other projects that have caught our attention: Planett (Private Luxury Accommodation Network, mostly Venice) and its related concept, Private Italy (luxury villas throughout Italy). We wrote about them last year after Planett hosted a workshop for tour operators and journalists.)
Americans tend to think of the world as "us" and "them." but this project illustrates that "they" do most of their business with each other. We have much less influence with "them" than we think, and none at all when it comes to deciding that upscale shops in the Arab world might want to stock Tuscan artichoke hearts for their increasingly adventurous customers.
Meanwhile, a Miami chain, Pizza Rustica, has just announced an expansion into the Middle East, partnering with an outfit called Kuwait International Franchise Co. to open pizza-by-the-slice stores in Kuwait and Bahrain.
This is worth remembering because the US State Department has just launched a high-profile initiative, in cooperation with the James Beard Foundation, to convince the world that there's more to American food than Mickey D. Celebrity chefs Maria Hines of Tilth and Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita are the Washington State delegates. Not everyone thinks this "foodie diplomacy" is such a good idea; my own sense is that we should be listening to the rest of the world, instead of always talking with our mouths full.