Analysis. The new survey on Italian lifestyle commissioned by the retail leader Coop tells the story of modernity.

Italy’s consumers are healthy but unwell, poor but consumeristic

Any superficial analysis may consider the consumer report “Coop Report 2016” — a dense document crisscrossing fresh data with in depth statistical studies — stuff for bookworms.

“In a country trapped in a cast, where recovery struggles to advance, the new Italians are born,” it says. Those are the disheartening starting words, branding today’s infants as only children of the recession. The consumption profiles at times of crisis are quite contradictory: We are certainly “poorer, more unequal, older and lonely,” but we also have become “greener and smarter, cleaner and healthier.”

In other words, those who can afford it focus on their own well-being, self-comforting narcissism as social therapy.

More Italians are also getting connected — 15 million smartphones were sold in the last year — and buying more online, saving up to €1,400 a year per family, thanks to free consumption (downloaded films and, alas, online newspapers).

The continuing crisis forces companies to postpone investment and the recovery is struggling “in the zero-growth swamp.” Families do somersaults and cut into their savings.

We are “the land of inequality”: similar to the U.S. in terms of inequality in the distribution of income, and our neighbors to Greece in terms of concentration of poor families (28.5 percent versus 35.7 percent).

As for Europe, 60 percent of Italians do not believe in it.

The generation gap is scary, and the only full wallets are those of the elderly: “The financial wealth of over 65 hovers around €154,000, versus just over €18,000 for those under 35.”

Even in this bleak picture, the consumption and customs of the new Italians continue to evolve, but it is not always a virtuous thing.

We are addicted to smartphones (no other European country buys so many). And, incredibly, 100,000 drones have been sold in Italy.

We are the thinnest people in Europe, and, thanks to a crisis forcing savings, we have become more virtuous regarding some choices that protect the environment: Sales of hybrid cars increased by 48 percent in 2016, and 57,000 electric bikes were purchased in 2015.

But it is clear that we are not well: The consumption of psychotropic drugs is 10 times higher than in other European countries.

Around 32 percent said they had smoked cannabis at least once, and Italy is second, after the Spaniards, in cocaine consumption (7.6 percent have used it at least once).

Some new trends were confirmed in food consumption. We eat less, but our cart has become more globalized (“ethnic shopping” increased by 8 percent). We like “light” and “free” foods (gluten free, sugar free, lactose free, etc.).

The “old-fashioned” ingredients are gaining popularity: ginger, quinoa and turmeric.

And the organic trend has become a mass phenomenon, and in this craze of the psychological and physical well-being, the Coop researchers also see the influence of “new forms of religiosity” (probably to be consumed like everything else): Two million Italians practice yoga, twice as many as in 2011.

Another crazy food: The market for supplements, pills and smoothies went above €2.5 billion (the highest in Europe).

And how is the Coop? They say spending on consumer goods remains at a standstill again this year, but sales have remained stable because the group, given the crisis, has decided to focus on convenience (discounts). The bet is to convert the new Italian consumers, explains Marco Pedroni, president of Coop Italy, but also to confirm the commitment in the south of the country and continue to invest in “international trade routes” (700 brand products are already on the shelves of the UAE and the Asian markets).

Finally, as always, an appeal to politics. As Stefano Bassi, president of ANCC-Coop, said: “In the face of uninspiring economic data and in anticipation of an imminent stability law, we demand a change of economic policy, on the one hand to avoid repressive actions on already troubled consumption (an increase of VAT would be a catastrophe) and the other hand, to launch a set of brave and concrete actions to support youth and reduce the current generation gap.”

Before it becomes a problem of public order, and to contain the consumption of psychotropic drugs and new religions.

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