interior of eataly caffe in toronto
Eataly's marketplaces are experiential, allowing shoppers to buy fresh meat, fish, cheese, pasta or pastries, take cooking classes or dine in one of several restaurants. — Eataly

Nicola Farinetti, the new Global CEO of food retailer Eataly, would love to open an Eataly in every country. He also wants to bring an Italian marketplace into your home, and to your cellphone, with improved online offerings.

“We believe the Eataly experience online needs to be different, just like the Eataly experience in our stores,” Farinetti told CO—. “Why shouldn’t you be able to chat with your trustworthy butcher inside of Eataly about the cuts of the day [while shopping online]?” he said.

Eataly is known for presenting food as theater in its sprawling, 50,000-square-foot gastronomical emporiums, where shoppers can buy fresh meat, fish, cheese, pasta or pastries, take cooking classes or dine in one of several restaurants. Now it wants to bring that authentic marketplace feel to its online interactions.

It has been testing online improvements in Italy, along with offering same-day deliveries in Milan, Turin and Rome, and has seen delivery sales in Italy grow to 5%.

Being able to engage with the butcher, or the fishmonger, is crucial to the Eataly experience, both online or in the store, Farinetti said.

“The human interaction, even with technology, for us is still mandatory,” Farinetti said.

 nicola farinetti headshot
Nicola Farinetti, Global CEO of Eataly. — Eataly

‘We did it for ourselves’

Farinetti, who became Global CEO last year, is the son of Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti, who opened the first Eataly in Turin in 2007.

“The main reason we invented Eataly is because my father has always been a true food lover, but he is a very casual guy,” Farinetti said.

“There were no places that were able to give all these very high-level experiences at affordable prices to everybody,” Farinetti said. “So I always say the reason we did Eataly is because we did it for ourselves. And I guess we got it right.”

Eataly not only got it right, but its success has contributed to the rapid growth of food halls and other new dining venues and raised the bar for food retailers.

“The presentation of product that they provide is so physically beautiful, so compelling, that it’s made just about every other group from supermarkets to grab-and-go elevate their game,” Phil Colicchio, executive managing director, specialty food and beverage, entertainment and hospitality consulting, at real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, told CO—.

The human interaction, even with technology, for us is still mandatory.

Nicola Farinetti, Global CEO of Eataly


One of Eataly's top goals is to engage with its customers where they are — in stores and now online. For more tips on engaging with customers, read on.

Expansion and heightened competition

The company opened its first U.S. marketplace in New York City in 2010, a 58,000-square-foot store that quickly gained a following.

It now operates 40 marketplaces in a dozen countries, and the appetite for new locations remains strong, Farinetti says.

When the newest location opened in Toronto at the end of October — the first Eataly in Canada — there were lines out the door for weeks. The marketplace and restaurants rang up close to $10 million in Canadian dollars and drew over half a million visitors in the first two months.

London and Dallas locations are scheduled to open this year, and the company has announced plans to open in Silicon Valley in 2021.

In the United States, Eataly partnered with celebrity chefs Lidia Bastaniach and Mario Batali, but last year it severed ties with Batali after he was accused of sexual harassment and assault.

The large size of the Eataly stores, and the upscale products sold there, means they need to be in locations that can draw a large audience of affluent shoppers, Colicchio said.

“Anybody of any financial demographic can go in and enjoy the Disney World of food that they provide,” he said, but it’s going to take a consumer who’s prepared to spend for them to continue their success.”

Eataly’s success has created tougher competition than when it arrived in this country a decade ago.

“When Eataly began, we were living in the age of food courts. Today we’ve evolved to food halls,” Darren Tristano, CEO and founder of Foodservice Results, and a food industry analyst for over 25 years, told CO—.

“The food hall is perhaps the biggest competitor to a concept like Eataly,” Tristano said, “because not only will it provide greater variety and similar quality, but it will attract the same type of consumer that Eataly is attracting.”

Still, Eataly has been able to draw “a very affluent and, in many cases, a young millennial crowd to drive their sales,” Tristano said. He believes those millennials will continue to go to the stores rather than shop online because “they want that rich experience.”

 mozzarella lab in eataly toronto caffe
Eataly's newest location opened in Toronto at the end of October 2019, marking the operation of 40 marketplaces in a dozen countries. — Eataly

‘Eat, shop, learn’

Farinetti said his dream, and the long-term goal of Eataly, is to have an Eataly marketplace in every country in the world. But for now, the focus is on North America and European expansion.

“We say all the time that Eataly’s not a chain, Eataly’s a family, because all the stores are different. They’re tailored to the country,” Farinetti said.

Farinetti said Eataly has done its job well when a customer leaves a store knowing more about food than when he or she arrived.

“This is what I believe a very good Eataly experience should be — that I had fun, that I felt at home, that everything was amazing, but also that I learned something about the way I need to eat and the products I need to buy that I wasn’t aware of yet.”

“Our format is eat, shop, learn,” Farinetti said. “We don’t only train our employees; we also train our customers.”

For Farinetti, who previously headed Eataly’s North American operations, part of his job will be to remember the love of food and authentic Italian cooking that made his family create Eataly.

For that reason, he will be spending more time in Italy in his new role, in between scouting trips for new locations. “If you want to be a true Italian food company, you need to be here. If not, you forget.”

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