When we decided to develop Flick on food, this was exactly the kind of story we had in mind. our country’s real treasure is the tradition and culture packed in every ingredient and in all our local food varieties. Today we’re talking about Calabrian clementines and the Clementime project. It’s not just about a Made in Italy product, but it’s also the story of young entrepreneurs who decided to come back to Italy after living abroad. Like many other young people, Francesco Rizzo, 30, answered the call of his homeland – or maybe it was his desire for redemption that brought him back to Corigliano Calabro. His family owns a locally well-known company, which he admits can actually be pretty limiting. “People from important families either end up being held back by them, or trying to do something in spite of them.” It would seem that he’s decided to do something noteworthy not only for his area, but also – maybe unintentionally – to show that “being young in Italy can still offer opportunities”.
To us, the Clementime project seems like a great opportunity, and not just for Calabria. The idea first blossomed when Francesco Rizzo and another Calabrian friend Antonio Braico, a geologist, thought “why don’t we bring clementines from Sibari to the rest of the world, as a snack sold in vending machines?” And really, why has no one thought of this before? But this was the start of an idea that seems equal parts simple and ambitious.
“I was at dinner with my friend Antonio who said, ‘can you believe that people from my region don’t even pick the clementines from the trees?’” Francesco recalls. “I explained that we have to decide if it’s cost effective to do so, and sometimes it’s better to just leave them on the trees.” This is where the idea to get them into the vending machine market started, and from there they came up with packaging, naming and branding. This came from a conversation about how something as extraordinary as the clementine has lost so much value. “Vendors have create a price war, and the problem is there’s no awareness between them.”
Let’s talk about the entrepreneurial side… what need did you identify in the market?
This isn’t tied to a certain region; we’re responding to a global and personal need. Everyone around the world wants to be able to have a healthy treat. We’re not only providing an alternative, but we also want to get visibility for a fruit that has never had it. When I mention bananas, you think of Chiquita, but if I mention clementines, there’s no brand associated with them. And besides recognition, we also want to essentially replicate the experience of tasting clementines as if they were picked straight from the trees of Sibari.
From a Brand standpoint, how did you come up with the clever name?
We started with the main goal of bringing healthy foods into schools, trying to get them to be seen as treats, just like Kinder eggs. The name was a result of plenty of sleepless nights – it was actually my mother, who’s worked in communications for a long time, who came up with the name during a brainstorming session. We think it’s absolutely perfect.
It’s a clever name that links a traditional fruit to something more innovative. What’s the biggest challenge now?
The problem is getting companies to put clementines in their vending machines. Obviously every machine has a fixed number of spaces, and it’s cheaper to put something like Kit Kats in there, because you only need to change them every 6 months. Clementines have a much different time frame, but we’re trying to send the message that while Clementime doesn’t create profits on the product, it can enhance image. For example, if you go to McDonald’s, you’ll find napkins with apples on them, but the last thing you’d see there is an apple.
Your work is flexible; let’s talk about smart companies
I actually work remotely. I’m in Padua, but could manage Clementine from anywhere. We have a warehouse for a group of producers, and the only cost for me was the Branding and packaging. My work is based mostly on direct contact with the producers, who direct in boxing and shipping the product.
What are your plans for the future?
In the future, we’d like to expand our range – find something that can fill those vending machines spaces all year long. A line for every month of the year – 6 months of clementines and 6 of other products. And then beyond Europe, the goal is the world. Anywhere they can appreciate the quality of Calabrian clementines and enjoy them as a healthy and tasty snack.
We’ve also been talking about opportunities to develop this project that’s so interesting to us, maybe moving into the B2C market. Quality is something that consumers really appreciate these days; they’re becoming increasingly demanding but are willing to consider higher prices for added value.