The unemployment rate in Italy is 11.7%, a 20-year high. Yet according to news reports, the country is facing a shortage of pizza makers. What gives?
“Despite a long recession and high unemployment, Italians are shunning the job because of the long hours and modest pay,” says the Britain-based Telegraph newspaper. “But with a slice of pizza an increasingly popular lunch time option in times of economic hardship, the pizza sector is booming—and an estimated 6,000 new ‘pizzaioili’ are needed.”
Luckily for pizza-lovers in Italy, there are people who will happily do the job. They just happen to be immigrants. “Italians may be reluctant to get their hands dirty by stoking ovens and kneading dough, but foreign immigrants have no such qualms and are now filling the gap, producing an increasing share of the three billion pizzas that Italians eat each year,” says the Telegraph.
Here in the U.S., where we are in the middle of our own immigration debate, there are jobs that Americans are reluctant to take. Sure, more people might sign up to pick lettuce in Yuma in the afternoon sun if it paid $50,000 a year, but what would that do to the price of lettuce, or the cost of a meal at Olive Garden? And do we want people with high school and college degrees doing this type of work? Is it the most efficient use of their human capital?
Long a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, hummus is earning a growing following among Americans seeking more-healthful snacks. The chickpea dip is low in fat and high in protein. Sales of “refrigerated flavored spreads”—a segment dominated by hummus—totaled $530 million at U.S. food retailers last year, up 11% from a year earlier and a 25% jump over 2010, according to market-research firm Information Resources Inc.
Sabra, based in White Plains, N.Y., has helped introduce more Americans to hummus through huge sampling events in major cities in which it has handed out 10,000 2-ounce packages a day. Sabra began its first national television advertising campaign earlier this year.
“Most of the consumers out there still don’t know what hummus is,” said Adam Carr, chief executive of Tribe Mediterranean Foods Inc., a Sabra rival. “We think that there are going to be lots of new users coming to the category.”
Growing demand for hummus has pushed up prices for chickpeas, spurring farmers to increase production. The average price that farmers received for chickpeas was 35 cents a pound last year, a 10-cent increase over the mid-2000s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It used to be that if you wanted hummus in America, you made your own. My wife and I bought a Vitamix blender, which is still going strong 40 years on, for that very purpose.
Now you can go to Trader Joe’s and find 8 kinds of hummus.