MILAN-- More and more it seems that prized-winning prosciutti and powdered-sugar covered panettone cakes are captivating the longing eye of luxury consumers from here to Shanghai.
And in Italy alone, recent acquisitions: Prada's majority stake in Milanese Caffe' Marchesi, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey's majority stake in Via Montenapoleone's Pasticceria Confetteria Cova and the Marzotto family's takeover of Peck a.k.a. Milan's "Temple of Gastronomy", have raised a few eyebrows.
Recent news reports have also said large fashion conglomerates might are currently eyeing historic Milanese pastisserie Sant' Ambroeus, which has replicated its winning formula U.S. chain in New York's Upper East Side.
The upsurge in luxury investments in Italy's historic gastronomic treasures beg the question: will Italy's gourmet foods one day become as coveted as much as its prized leather handbags and silk textiles?
The Moet Hennessey in the Louis Vuitton certainly provides us with a historic reference, but more recently, studies are demonstrating and experts are noting that sales of and investments in the high-end food industry are on the rise.
According to a study by Italy's farmer's association and national statistics office, Italian food exports grew 4.7 percent year on year in 2013.
Agricultural federation Coldiretti said exports of Italian panettone, for example, grew 14 percent in 2013, versus 2012.
Sant' Ambroeus alone reportedly produces and sells 10,000 kilos of panettone, of which 30 to 35 percent is exported international.
"Consumers enjoying handbags and watches today will move to more complex, sophisticated categories. Eating well is one of them," said Luca Solca, a luxury goods analyst and a managing director at Exane BNP Paribas.
"And yes, I think these businesses are both profitable and also able to sustain branded packaged food businesses on top," Solca added, citing an earlier report published by Exane this year in which Solca cites a "category spend shift" in the industry, relating to the idea that consumers are moving to different product categories rather than brands.
Altagamma Vice Chairman Armando Branchini has doubts that purchasing small Italian patisseries and caffes will ever yield high profits in the long-term, but such acquistions will certainly enrich a brand's DNA and heritage.
"Gourmet food is an ideal compliment to a high-profile lifestyle. You can't dress yourself in high-quality clothes, furnish your house with luxury furniture and not have the same standard for food and wine," Branchini said.
In 2013, Italy's luxury sector, which includes high end food and spirits like champagne, rose to 217 billion euros from 212 billion euros a year earlier. About four percent of that pie is the "other" category which includes food and spirits.
Italy's culinary patrimony is also something that can be easily shared and adored by Euro-phile consumers worldwide.
Earlier this spring, Prada tested the Marchesi Caffé experience at Harrod's London headquarters, by opening a pop-up restaurant on the fourth floor of the store.
"Marchesi is a brand that embodies the type of excellence that Prada embodies as a group," said Stefano Cantino, Director of Communications at Prada, noting that Marchesi was opened in 1824 and Prada, founded in 1913, is also a Milanese historic establishment.
Cantino explained that Prada, now a listed company, has plans for Marchesi, as it is intended to compliment its "Prada Galleria" project. The plans involve the renovation of an entire quadrant of Milan's majestic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The shopping area houses the first Prada shop, which founder Mario Prada opened in 1913. Prada is working on restructuring a 7-story tower to house spaces of the permanent collection, restaurants, an auditorium for events, concerts and film festivals.
"The numbers of consumers, or so-called-foodies, is constantly growing," said Alessia Zampano, Milan-based consumer trends researcher and consultant.
"Evolved and concenetious consumers appreciate and research certified qaulity and are ready to pay considerable amounts of money," Zampano said.