Three questions for Riccardo Felicetti, CEO of Pastificio Felicetti

Environmental awareness is a key production theme of your pasta company, both in terms of industry and communication. Where and when did you start to realize that this was important?

I think the mountain life really obliges you to live a lifestyle that respects the environment, not so much out of environmental awareness, more just the knowledge that nature is cruel. If you understand it and treat it with respect, it is less likely to bite you. From the mid-1990s onwards, besides starting to make pasta with wheat from organic farming methods, we began a complete overhaul of our production unit. We made endless changes and improvements to the enterprise, making it more compatible with the environment and drastically reducing our environmental impact.

Your historic factory is at Predazzo, 1018 metres above sea level, where not only does wheat struggle to grow, but most things struggle to grow in the bulky mountain shadow. Humanity’s relationship with nature in the mountains has always been unique; as you say, respect for nature in the mountains is more a question of survival than appreciation. How has the “mountain existence” influenced Felicetti’s environmental project?

As I say, living in the mountains – like living by the sea – forces you to understand the power, sometimes devastating power, of nature. Learning to respect it, even before you start thinking about “the environment” per se, is crucial for survival. Less so today, of course, than in the past.

Pasta-making is always a question of big numbers, from the field to the shop shelves. On the one hand, sustainability and environmental respect are lazy, overused slogans; on the other hand, there are things you have to do economically if you want to be competitive. Today’s obsession with low prices is equal only to the obsession with maximum profit in global production. So how do you create a food-agriculture system that avoids exploiting resources – people, the land – while rewarding huge investments of capital?

I think the final choice lies with the customer, who could maybe think in terms of buying a product rather than a price. That’s the first step towards the necessary rewards for every person on the production line. Once you start thinking that way, you think about the relationship between price and cost, and realize that what’s good for business is not always sustainable at an environmental, social or productive level. Progress in certain areas has coincided with cultural regress in others. I don’t want to sound high-handed, of course, but I would say that as consumers we can’t continue to rail against high prices if we keep buying products priced too low. Someone ends up paying for the difference. 

Riccardo Felicetti represents the fourth generation to helm the Felicetti pasta factory at Predazzo. He is also President of the Pasta Group of Unionfood, which counts for around 70% of Italian pasta production. He was made Cavaliere del Lavoro by Italian head of state Sergio Mattarella.