Clearly less mediatically compared to other sectors,
the tanning industry is an excellence of Made in Italy in the world, with its mix of creativity, tradition and ability to adapt to changes in world demand.
Accomplice is a widespread willingness to invest in innovation processes, in a process that involves individual companies as well as entire supply chains developed around the districts.
On the basis of the currently available official data (which stop at the October final balance) and the trend lines, the sector should have closed 2017 with volumes of production increasing by about 3%, compared to only marginal progress in value (+ 0.7%). Values closely followed by all operators in the sector, considering that Italy is worth 65% of the turnover generated in this sector throughout the European Union and 19% worldwide. The players of the Peninsula each year import about 800 thousand tons of raw or semi-finished materials, worth 2.3 billion euros in 2016, and export the tanned leather in 110 countries for a value of 3.8 billion. As for the production segments, the greatest boost comes from the sale of medium-large bovine hides, while the progress of goatskins is less supported. On the contrary, the turnover of the calves (with some recovery in the last months of the analyzed period) and of the sheep is down. Trends linked to the intended use, with the car interiors that make up a very dynamic segment, while the fashion clientele (leather goods, footwear, clothing) works like a leopard spot.
In the first ten months of 2017 Italian exports of tanned hides showed a slight increase (+ 0.7%) compared to the same period of 2016, driven above all by the good trend of sales to China (+ 6%), which arrived for a difficult two years.
After seven years of continuous increases, the US market appears to be slightly slowing (-2%) and at first sight this performance could be attributed to the strengthening of the euro against the dollar. In reality this can not be the prevailing reason, if we consider that sales to the United Kingdom have increased hand in hand (+ 6%), despite the weakening of the pound compared to the single currency. As for the euro area, exports to France are growing (+ 5%), while it is falling towards Spain (-6%) and Germany (-3%). Overall, cross-border sales account for roughly three-quarters of total sales compared to just over a third of 1992. This means that in a quarter of a century, the Italian companies have been able to deeply modify not only the products but also their own way. to stay on the market to go and intercept those markets that still have a high potential for growth. In line with the Italian tradition, production is concentrated in some territories, where over time districts have developed which, focusing on the specific weight of a few, large companies, have progressively developed the whole industry chain.
The sector has 17,600 employees and 1,200 companies, data which clearly shows that most companies are small or very small. Veneto (in particular the area around Arzignano, in the Vicenza area) is by far the best equipped region on this front with 55% of the national market, followed by
Tuscany (from Santa Croce sull’Arno, in the province of Pisa, over time a large leather district has developed) is growing with its 28.5%.
And these two territories are those that in recent times have shown to enjoy better health, while some difficulties have emerged in Campania (third with 7.6%) and Lombardy (5%). Data collected by Unic (National Union of Tanning Industry), the most important global association of industrial tanning industries. Investments abroad are not lacking, but in general they are driven by the need for companies to ensure simplified access to raw materials (which in many non-EU countries suffer from protectionist restrictions), rather than by mere productive delocalisations, motivated from a lower labor cost. Traditionally, leather processing has an artisanal connotation that goes hand in hand with the introduction of innovative technologies within the production process. The worker, his skills and experience, play an essential role in the transformation of a waste of the food industry into a valuable material. That is why, despite the high seasonal peaks and the considerable fluctuations of the market, the organizational structure of the tanneries prefers the stability of relationships (permanent contracts) as a form of protection of the knowledge acquired and increased by the worker within the company. As a consequence, the use of flexible types of contracts (fixed-term contracts and temporary contracts) is limited.