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Buitoni (Italy)

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Buitoni is the umbrella for an extensive range of Italian foods owned by Nestlé since 1988. Originally best-known for dry pasta, the range has been upgraded in recent years to focus on premium fresh refrigerated pasta and sauces, as well as cheese, frozen meals and even pizzas in some markets. Once one of Nestle's key global brands, it has been discontinued in some markets (including the UK) to allow the group to concentrate on other products. However, it remains a key brand in Italy, the US, Germany and Switzerland.


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Buitoni is one of the leading global Italian culinary brands. It has a strong position in several markets, but faces strong competition from other brands as well as private label suppliers. Nestlé has extended the brand into a variety of different product lines, matched only by close rival Barilla. However performance has been patchy in recent years, prompting Nestle to drop the brand in weaker markets.

The Buitoni range varies widely from country to country. Although originally best-known in most markets for dry pasta, the brand is increasingly geared towards higher-priced fresh pasta and sauces. In Italy, the range is truly vast, extending to a selection of frozen and prepared meals, and even crackers and crispbreads. The brand competes fiercely in its home country, as well as other European territories, with Barilla, which is the world's leading pasta maker. Germany is another key market. Buitoni has been Germany's leading pasta brand since 2000, although it now falls under the umbrella of the Maggi brand family. In the US, Buitoni is the market share leader in the small but significant refrigerated fresh pasta segment, with almost 73% market share (SymphonyIRI ye Jan 2012 ex Walmart), but has virtually no footprint in the much larger dried pasta sector. In Japan, the brand also lends its name to a small chain of Buitoni Pastabar restaurants.

For many years, Buitoni held the #1 position in the UK, where it was at one time more than seven times larger than its nearest branded rival. It was overtaken in UK pasta sales in 2006, however, by rival Napolina and was subsequently delisted by several major supermarket retailers. It was more or less withdrawn from the UK by 2010. In France too, it has largely been replaced by the Maggi brand, although it is still used for frozen pizzas.

The brand has suffered a couple of unfortunate contamination scandals in recent years. At the end of 2012, frozen pizzas in Canada and some European markets were withdrawn after metal fragments were found in them. A few months later in 2013, refrigerated beef ravioli in Italy and Spain was discovered to contain traces of horsemeat.


The business was founded in 1827, in Sansepolcro, Tuscany, by Giulia Buitoni. According to company legend, she started the business to support her family after her husband fell ill and could no longer work. Pawning a pearl necklace heirloom, she bought two pasta-making machines and set to work in a shed at the back of the family house. Although pasta was traditionally made at home, the rising Tuscan middle-class took quickly to the idea of buying ready-made. Giulia Buitoni's was the first commercial pasta operation in Italy, as well as the first to use Durum wheat, now a staple in pasta. Buitoni herself became a regional celebrity, an Italian equivalent to Mrs Beeton, after publication of a book of recipes.

By 1850 the business was under the control of her son Giovanni, who introduced a new high protein form of pasta which he named Pastina. In the early 20th century, the business was managed by Giulia's grandson, Giovanni Buitoni II, who expanded the range nationally, backed by extensive radio and print advertising. In the late 1930s, the company opened a factory in France. With the outbreak of World War II, Giovanni fled to the US, leaving everything behind. He and his wife opened the Buitoni Restaurant on New York's Broadway in 1940, which in turn proved an enormous success.

After the war, the family returned to Europe, reclaiming the Italian and French factories. In 1949 the company introduced its tinned ravioli in France and it was this product, gradually rolled out throughout Europe, that was to be the basis for its success outside Italy. Meanwhile a US factory opened in 1952 in New Jersey. Over the following years the business expanded rapidly, acquiring a string of other businesses in France and Italy. After floating in the 1970s, new chairman Bruno Buitoni mounted a takeover of chocolate maker Perugina, to create Industrie Buitoni Perugina. Other purchases followed, but the company accumulated debts of over $100m in the process, and by the early 1980s was generating substantial losses. Buitoni initially opened negotiations with conglomerate BSN, the forerunner to Danone. However the French company was secretly outmanoeuvred by financier Carlo De Benedetti (at the time already chairman of Olivetti). He secured a 61% stake in the business for around $25m, despite attempts by BSN to block the deal because of Buitoni's extensive French manufacturing interests. De Benedetti streamlined the business, returning it to profit just a year later. Then in 1988 he sold out to Nestlé for a handsome $1.3bn, making an enormous profit on his three-year involvement in the business.

Since then Nestlé has continued to expand the brand's range. Initially, in 1992 the Buitoni brand was merged in North America into Nestlé's existing Contadina fresh pasta and sauces business, which became Contadina dalla Casa Buitoni. But a year later the group established the first single-brand strategic business unit within Nestlé to develop the Buitoni brand worldwide. The result was Casa Buitoni, a global food club which arranges cooking classes (held in the Casa Buitoni itself, a restored villa in Tuscany where Giulia Buitoni lived towards the end of her life). At the same time the range was greatly extended. Over the following years, the Contadina brand name was gradually phased out in the US. It was finally dropped altogether in 1997, sold to Del Monte, and the whole range rebranded as Buitoni.

Last full revision 21st January 2016

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