Over the last few years, snails for gastronomic use have been an active player in the Italian market, achieving a significant increase in consumption and a re-organization of the market itself - all of which has involved a proper reevaluation of the mollusks and their use in cooking. Many factors have contributed to this growth, which from the years 1990 to 1995 has become even more rapid. It is important to remember the development of the full natural cycle breeding system that occurred in Italy during this growth period and the consequent marketing and organization carried out by the breeders. Secondly, the increasingly massive diffusion of frozen and pre-cooked meals, prepared by the specialized canning industries, has brought this mollusk to the consumer - ready for use and preserved so as to maintain all its organoleptic features.
In addition, in many regions such as Liguria, Tuscany, Lazio and in the islands, the population has rediscovered the use of snails in traditional gastronomy - making them the protagonist of a simple and working-class cuisine such as that offered at public events organized by political parties and in country fairs.
The current situation of consumption in Italy though, records a commercial continuity only in a few marketplaces, whereas in several big centers such as Rome, Naples, Bari, and Florence snails are available in general markets (fish, fruit and vegetables) less than 50 times a year. This fact, besides being due to the scarce availability of the product, is also ascribable to the current lack of commercial businesses that can ensure a daily supply of fresh product in standard packaging, as is possible with fruit and vegetables. The current approximate 408.000 quintals could surely multiply rapidly through means of an adequate and well-organized distribution to big, medium and small-sized points of sale, and in turn lead to growth to the currently low consumption per capita, which is just 150 grams a year (corresponding to circa 50 grams of meat actually consumed). Unlike France, Switzerland and Germany (countries that have consumption rates 10-12 times higher than ours and in which snails are sold exclusively in preserved and treated form), over 80% of Italy's entire market currently consists of living snails, which are sold 15-20 days after having been picked, dried and cleaned. Snail numbers have recorded a steady 8-10% increase every year for the last ten years. At the same time there is a substantial equivalence in prices in different seasons yet no significant imbalance between the products picked in Summer or in Autumn, and those picked in their resting state in Winter. The maintenance of a steady price is the sign of a market that is more extended, more continuative and increasingly relying on organizations that feature industrial structures and systems. Furthermore, there has been a remarkable turnaround concerning the consumption of different species.
Up until seven or eight years ago, commercial data was mainly related to Helix Pomatia, as it represented the most renowned and utilized species of snails. Over the years though, other species that were once regarded as minor, have taken over, overturning the previous situation; an increasingly considerable reevaluation of the price of small-sized snails to the detriment of large-sized ones has thus taken place. Quotations of small batches, such as those sold by the breeder to restaurants, are normally 40-50% higher than wholesale ones. For this reason, and above all for the limited availability of product when confronted with a high demand, breeders, particularly those operating on limited territorial extensions, normally opt for this latter type of sale as it is more profitable. The price of the processed product is different and difficult to quantify, since products and packaging available on the market are often ready meals, where the mollusk is accountable only for a small part of the total weight. It can be considered that prices are approximately four times higher than living snails for the same amount, mostly due to the waste and the weight loss that occur during processing.
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