Zanré raises his arms and shrugs in that oh-so Italian way, and grins in the most personable fashion. He might have a tough job to make Filippo Berio stand out in a crowded olive oil fixture full of classy contenders. But he relishes his job. "I've moved from dealing with commodities and efficiencies at Mediterranean Growers, to selling a true brand," he says, with great satisfaction. Zanré looks positively Teutonic on first meeting but is in fact that rare find ­ an Anglo-Italian hybrid, of Italian parentage but raised in England, bilingual and containing both nationalities, with the eloquence of the Italians, and the moderation of the British (he deeply respects common sense). The two sides of his nature made him an ideal choice for developing a proper Filippo Berio arm in the UK, though he is the first to stress the RH Amar import infrastructure was already in place. As Filippo Berio UK country manager he is based at the un-Italian surroundings of the RH Amar offices in High Wycombe. Home is an hour's drive away in Totteridge, north London, although business trips frequently take him back to Italy and the hq of the Fontana brothers who own Salov (Filippo Berio being the brand). His parents met in Italy and came separately to England to catering jobs in the 1950s; Walter was born within the sound of Bow Bells in 1961. Thanks to "a good memory, being relatively intelligent and working hard", he went on to A levels in biology, chemistry and maths with the intention of being a doctor. But a visit to a mortuary made him realise he was too squeamish. He decided not to take up a place to study chemistry at Imperial College London and instead went to work in his father's restaurant and snack bar, the Bar Linda in Golders Green (which is still there with his father Lino still making an excellent espresso at 68, after two heart attacks). "This was a very good schooling. It taught me great people skills. Forty per cent of the general public are off their head ­ there are a lot of strange people out there! And you have to learn how to handle them." But after a few years Zanré decided it was time to get a career, and went into life insurance where he learnt all about selling. "You were trying to sell what earned you the most commission. You had to be very materialistic. And this was not the be all and end all for me." Via a friend he heard that there were openings at Conserve Italia's subsidiary Mediterranean Growers which sold all manner of processed tomatoes, fruit and veg into the UK. Conserve Italia was the largest processor of fresh produce in Europe, and quite avant garde in its readiness to establish subsidiaries. "They were prepared to take on someone with no experience and it worked out very well for me. I ended up as national account manager and was running the Sainsbury business at 24. The Conserve Italia MD Carlo Ronchi (a strategic genius) was prepared to gamble on young people and you were permitted to make mistakes. "I was always the youngest person in any meetings," he adds. "It was all a lot less formal. You could just stride in with a Have I got a deal for you!'" There is a nostalgia in Zanré for the days when European grocery supply involved a multitude of small companies and colourful characters. "Consolidation has taken out some of the romance," he says ruefully. "You used to walk in to meet retailers with a bag of samples and come out with an order. Now there are many obstacles but it is much more professional. "You used also to have a lot of customers. Now it is make or break. So much is now riding on big contracts with multiples. Lose a customer and you can be in serious trouble because all your eggs are in one basket. "Conserve Italia was a very large company but it was run like a small one in each of its parts, with a kind of family mentality. There wasn't a massive structure. I could not work in a typical large organisation because I like to stick my nose into everything and be hands on. Bigger organisations can be blinkered. "I was exposed to every facet of the business. You had to understand everything, sales, marketing, currencies, the science of food and food processing, and so on...I also became something of a logistics mastermind. It was a very fast moving and very competitive business and I realised that if I could survive there I could survive anywhere. The canned tomato industry in Naples is, after all, notorious." Zanré was with Mediterranean Growers for 17 years, rising to managing director. Then an approach from Salov led to a meeting in Viareggio (the best place to eat seafood in Italy, he says) in June and "I fell in love with the idea of the olive oil market". Filippo Berio had helped establish olive oil in the UK but until Zanré took up the reins, everything was being done at arm's length in Britain. "The UK was too important to be dealt with in that way, when the branded presence was escalating." Today, with own label at a 52% share, Filippo Berio has 20.1% of the market and is the brand leader. But the competition is hot, especially with Unilever Bestfoods having access to marketing budgets for Bertolli that Zanré can only dream of. "With a big piece of the Italian mean gene", Zanré now works hard to make his £3m 2002 budget work as hard as it possibly can, and to find cost savings in the operation. And he faces the challenge of growth in the olive oil market having slowed despite all the money being flung at it. "It was 14% when I joined and now it is 6%. Growth up until now has come from existing households using more ­ that's 38% of the population. We've reached a maximum with those people. So now we have to look for growth from the other 62%. And we have to recognise the UK still eats a lot of fried food. So we've brought Mild and Light into the equation and are working for full distribution in the multiples." As a chemist, Zanré is happy to talk about fatty acid composition in detail, and that includes the millions of different components and the mopping up of free radicals. "It's a stepping stone. It brings olive oil into everyday cooking.It is healthier than vegetable oils. Indulgence used to be top of the agenda but now health is, and we have to get people just to try it. And Mild and Light is not just a perfect substitute for other cooking fats but also reaches a higher temperature so the food absorbs less oil." Olive oil ­ the Italians understand this ­ is like wine, and has the same complexity and variety. He might be encouraging the Brits to see it as a cooking oil for everyday use, but Zanré will wax lyrical about its nose and notes. "Our mission is to make sure Filippo Berio the authority in the UK on olive oil. I was really flattered when Waitrose approached us for help with their olive oil guide. They overperform in olive oil but are upmarket. We have to look to major growth at the bottom end of the market, though all the classes are concertina-ing and picking up each other's habits." He believes that "people have this squeamishness, this notion that they don't like the smell ­ though when you ask them they have never tried it. "Yet we don't have the marketing budget to convince everyone. We have to look to people interested in food. If they are interested in food it will be easier to convert them to olive oil. So we are using things like the BBC Good Food Show, and also providing a lot of information through various media. We like to talk to real consumers. In focus groups you will only hear what you want to hear." A key part of Zanré's strategy is grabbing the consumer at point of sale, by the neck, as it were. "I have used neck collars a lot since I joined as it is the most cost-effective way I have of communicating with consumers." And he adores the stuff himself. The perfect evening snack is, in his opinion, some fresh bread dipped into some extra virgin. "I have a genuine passion for olive oil and I am a bit of a purist. You see people mixing balsamic vinegar with it for a salad. In my opinion you might as well pour in Castrol GTX! If you make a mozzarella and tomato salad you should only put olive oil on it. But there is my Italian side. Italians get on their high horse about food." Walter met his wife Mirella at an Italian wedding in England. It was meant to be, as her parents came from the same small Italian village as his. Now he has three sons, Matteo, Sebastiano and Alessandro, nine, eight and five. His hobby ­ quite correctly for an Italian, is a 1968 Alfa Romeo Spider which he occasionally finds the time to drive. "It is an Italian/Latin thing. And it is red of course. The car that Dustin Hoffman drove in The Graduate." And he loves eating, a wide range of food, but particularly seafood. His favourite dish is spaghetti alle vongole veraci (clams) followed by crême brulée. And he recommends Gordon Ramsay's Petrus and The Fat Duck at Bray. But what of more ordinary fare? Should we really be cooking our bacon and eggs with olive oil? A pause, and then: "Of course!" he declares. And he means it. n {{PROFILE }}