Basilio Civello gives Sicilian smallholders access to the Swiss and EU sales market

"Great potential for Sicilian saffron in the premium sector"

Saffron is rather a marginal product in this country and is mainly imported from third countries, above all, Iran, Afghanistan, and India. However, the spice is also produced in Europe, for example, by small farmers in Sicily. In close cooperation with Bananen + Frucht AG in Zurich, Basilio Civello of Civello Fruchthandel Ltd, Sicily specialist and owner of the company of the same name, has now managed to bring Sicilian saffron from Azienda Agricola Rossoraro to Switzerland, thus giving small farmers access to a completely new export market.

Above right: Basilio Civello showcases Sicilian saffron.

The innovative cultivation company was founded in 2019 by Giuseppe Pennisi. The economist and one-time tax consultant came across a field full of purple flowers one day and, after doing his own research, found out that it was wild saffron. He decided to convert part of his parents' three-hectare farm, left to him by his father, for saffron cultivation. The location, at 830 meters above sea level at the foot of Mount Etna, provides the ideal base for saffron cultivation, Civello explains the origins of his saffron producer.

Giuseppe Pennisi, saffron producer and owner of the Rossoraro company.

The situation of many small Sicilian farmers is particularly precarious these days, Civello says, due not only to the pandemic but also to the lack of a marketing structure. "These are mostly innovative farmers between 25 and 40 years old, most of whom are academically educated, loyal to their homeland, and reinventing themselves. And mostly, they are reinventing themselves in agriculture. It's just that they struggle with developing sales channels and consolidated markets." That's where Civello comes in, helping to open up sales channels. "As one of a handful of Sicilian saffron producers, Rossoraro has also tried to sell yields to regional restaurants, which have then overwhelmingly preferred the lower-priced variety from outside the region. In addition, small producers are trying to sell their products through online retailers, but sales are extremely sluggish."

Support for small producers
Just like small farmers from afar, Sicilian farmers could use all the support they can get, Civello continues. "And that's precisely why I do what I do. It's especially important to me to give producers crucial access to the export market." But he stresses that creating a market structure is in everyone's best interest. "There are several factors at play here, such as short transport distances, a better ecological footprint, and, last but not least, less dependence on complex supply chains and mechanisms compared to overseas goods. Supporting small European farmers does come at a monetary price, as production is more expensive than in Iran, but the premium quality of Sicilian saffron has nothing to fear from comparison."

After the first samples and tastings, Civello, who acts as a link and food scout and is always on the lookout for specialties, also fruits and exotics from small Sicilian producers for the local markets, has already been able to win the first customers for the unique product from small-scale farming. One of them is Bananen + Frucht AG, a trading company with a long tradition and headquarters at the Engrosmarkt in Zurich, which has repeatedly offered support to Civello Fruchthandel in the placement of Sicilian specialties. Civello Fruchthandel has now entered into a partnership with Rossoraro and is the first point of contact for all interested parties. "In this context, I act as sales manager for Milan, Switzerland, and Europe. This means that interested parties can contact me, and I will then take over the sales processing for Rossoraro, the orders, and organize the logistics," says the Sicily specialist.

Civello: "I am pleased that with Bananen + Frucht AG in Zurich and Nature Service s.r.l in Milan, we have already found trading partners who not only see the commercial part but also actually want to support the small farmers on several levels. In addition, Vincenzo Summo of Nature Service, an established company in the Milan wholesale market, is actively helping with logistics and import processing. He was also the first to believe in this project started by Civello and the first to buy from the Sicilian Rossoraro."

High sales potential in the premium segment
Sicilian saffron is usually harvested in November and then dried for several months using modern drying equipment. The dried saffron has a shelf life of about two years, Civello describes. "The saffron is available year-round, and we are now selling last fall's harvest. The product is offered in different containers, varying from 0.3 to 0.5, one gram for specialty retailers and three and five grams for restaurants. Due to the exclusive packaging, I see high sales potential, especially in the premium segment, whether as a gift item for companies or Christmas items."

Images: Civello Fruchthandel GmbH

For more information:
Basilio Civello
Civello Fruchthandel GmbH
Dorfstrasse 89
8954 Geroldswil
Tel.: +41 78 707 06 08  

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