Italian Export Smeg Is Doing More And Less
The beautiful blenders that stay out on the counter.
Smeg brings the traditions of “metal meddling” and of European architecture and design to the kitchen. An Italian brand with three generations of family history, Smeg is all about aesthetics without sacrificing function. Besides small appliances like blenders and toasters, Smeg also sells ovens and refrigerators. While the brand has been landing flashy collaborations with Dolce & Gabbana as of late, its work with top designers spans decades. Quiddity spoke with Smeg’s Christian Boscherini, marketing and events specialist, about the company’s blue-collar roots, Italian culture, and millennials wanting to do more with less.
How does your company’s heritage help you build trust with your consumers?
I think that's interesting, especially in this market for us. We’re a smaller company in the U.S. at this point, especially in comparison to the very large company we are on the European side. We've been in the U.S. since 2006, but we've been in Italy since 1948. Being a 70-year-old company lends a certain amount of gravitas, and makes people a bit more confident in buying our product.
The other obvious aspect of the heritage is Italian. Americans borderline fetishize anything that was made in italy. They are obsessed with the idea of Italian culture and style. It adds a luxury veneer, especially because our name doesn't sound Italian. [Second], we’re family-owned. It's really important in making people understand who we are and what we are about. Third, we have a history of working with designers and engineers. Talking about some of the designers we've had over the decades. Guido Canali designed a product line for us in 1986. We go out of our way to bring that up and make people.
That concept of working with materials and producing our own materials is very entwined with the culture of the company and the family.
If you claimed one other brand as an ancestor, which would it be?
I wouldn't call it an ancestor but a cousin brand is Bertazzoni. The CEOs of the two companies are cousins. It was four brothers, and one of them decided to go out on his own. The family has been involved in metalworking and blacksmithing all the way back to the 17th century. The family in general has been involved in making things out of metallic components for so long. Smeg means “metal enamelers of Guastalla, Emilia” — it was an enameling company first and foremost. That concept of working with materials and producing our own materials is very entwined with the culture of the company and the family. Smeg means “metal meddlers”—it’s an enameling company first and foremost. That concept of working with materials and producing our own materials is very entwined with the culture of the company and the family.
How do consumers generally learn more about your brand’s heritage?
They frequently don't. We’re simply just not large enough at this point for us to surface on a lot of people’s radar. To be honest, the name causes problems sometimes. People think it's German or Swedish. If people do know, they've seen something in the media or on television. I’ve been on DIY [Network] a couple of times. The recent Dolce & Gabbana collaboration [Sicily Is My Love] has gone a long way. People see our collaboration with them and start to ask questions.
We are also a green company. That just sort of happened. We leaned into it as we went. Even our main headquarters is energy neutral.
What’s one way you’ve recently reframed your history to reflect contemporary trends or interests?
We haven't really changed it honestly. We are unabashedly a European company. We have gotten the occasional call from someone, whose political leanings are slightly obvious, complaining that we aren't made in America. We’re not trying to be an American company. We’re not really trying to be a Wolf. We're not trying to be a Sub Zero. We’re trying to be a companion to someone who has a different design scheme and thinking pattern in what they’re looking for. Maybe we focus more on the beginning: the fact that we are design-oriented is maybe the most important thing to get out there. As we progress, we focus more on the design aspects, bringing up our collaborations with Marc Newson and Renzo Piano, bringing that up to people who are aware of them.
Which social media platform, if any, are you focusing on to share your company’s story?
We use Facebook, but sparingly. Instagram is probably our bread and butter, just because our products are very visual and it's where we have the highest level of engagement across the board. Pinterest does pretty well too, but we don't directly control anything there. People just happen to pin stuff about us there.
What one detail of your founding story has resonated most with consumers?
Being a family owned company, being third-generation at this point appeals to people. It's stayed in the same family. We started basically by opening our own factory. We've stayed in the same little village that we were founded in, Guastalla, Emilia-Romagna. [The company] has some additional factories that are also run by us. We produce a vast majority of the components and the products we put out. We have a direct hand. Our CEO gets involved sometimes in the design aspect. We’re a big company; we have 2,000 employees. Even me, a marketing person in America, I'm a peon, essentially, compared to the management on the Italian side. There is a level of engagement though, a personal interaction, since I can speak directly to the area manager, and he speaks directly to the board and the CEO.
We are also a green company. That just sort of happened. We leaned into it as we went. Even our main headquarters is energy neutral. We try to use environmentally sustainable components in everything we do. There are trees planted in planters inside the factory floor in Guastalla.
What other brands, strategies or consumer trends have influenced your own company?
Other brands, not so much, we tend to our own thing. We're lucky to be on the forefront of being design oriented. Roberto Bertazzoni, a second generation member of the family is the current president. He was more interested in getting more and more involved with designers and architects. That was in the '70s. When you got to the '90s, house design really began to change, with an open kitchen integrated into the living room. My generation started moving back to the city, and the idea of sitting at a dinner table became less of a thing, really. People born after 1985 and during the first half of the '90s—they are the people that really really embrace that. They moved into cities even more than the late Gen X-ers did. They entertain even more. They care about design even more. You have a space that was always utilitarian with equipment to make food, but now it's also a place to have parties and eat food and entertain. We've been creating things that are beautiful in their own right. They are the items everyone asks about, that people think are beautiful. Something you leave on the counter. “True” millennials are less-materialistic, but more image-conscious. People in that age category are doing a lot more with less. To have a house and family — when the environment and economy shifted away from that, the culture shifted. The measure of success is less about having a lot of things and more about having a few high-quality, pretty things that look nice, and having a nice environment to put them in.
How do you frame your company’s heritage in relationship to cooking and food?
Obviously it's just because of where the company is from, specifically what region of Italy. Lots of the stereotypical Italian food — parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto, Bolognese cuisine — originated from Emilia-Romagna. We like the fact that we’re from that region, with such a tremendous food history and culture. Italians will argue among themselves over which region has the best cuisine. It's so intrinsic to the culture. And, we are very chef-friendly. We try to design things that are made for someone who actually wants to cook. Like, what position makes the most sense for the simmer burner?
How might that story differ for fitness and lifestyle?
Even with the Italianness, what people perceive as Italian food in the U.S. was born of the immigrants in the U.S., who were mostly people from Naples and Sicily. Most [Americanized Italian dishes] are variations and descendants of the food of those regions. Northern Italian food — like risotto — is becoming much more popular now. But Italians use natural, freshly sourced ingredients. They don't go to Costco and buy 17 weeks’ of food and fit it into a 7000” refrigerator. That's the thinking behind what we do. We don't design products for someone who buys in bulk, we design products for people that actually appreciate food and its quality. A good example is self-cleaning. We design our ovens to be enameled in such a way that you don't have to clean very often, and it's easy when you do. Basically, we don't like the self-cleaning function because it's not healthy. We only do it on ovens that have a Sabbath mode. It damages the lining of the oven, and ends up letting out carcinogenic vapor at the end. It’s not healthy, it's not safe, so we eschew it.
Writer & journalist based in NY.