This article explores the tension between agro-industrial production and the discourses on typical and quality food, through an analysis of the pomodori pelati (whole peeled canned tomatoes) production in Southern Italy. On the one hand, pomodori pelati are widely considered – and marketed – as a «typical» production; on the other, both farming and canning processes have an industrial character, and lost their link with the «traditional» production. The analysis is based upon 32 in-depth interviews, collected between 2010 and 2018 with farmers, representatives of farmers’ organizations, technicians and owners of canneries, retail chains’ employees, regional administrations’ officials, in various Italian regions. The article argues that, first, the most part of the actors in the supply chain do not represent such production as «traditional» and acknowledge its industrial character; second, some actors consider pelati as a low-quality production and accuse their counterpart in the supply chain for their unfair production practices; third, over the last years a niche production of San Marzano-Dop pelati, which are represented as «truly traditional», emerged. In conclusion, it is noted that producers – farmers and cannery owners and technicians – do not seem to agree with the discourses on quality food, while retailers appear as the actors that drive both the industrial and traditional production.
Keywords: Industrial tomatoes; Southern Italy; Corporate-environmental food regime; Qualitative research.