By Francesca Landini
MILAN (Reuters) - In the red corner is Italy's reigning cookie champion, Barilla's Gocciola. Across the ring in the blue corner is the challenger, Ferrero's Nutella Biscuit. Fight!
After clashing over chocolate spreads, Italy's two biggest food companies, Barilla and Ferrero, are now battling about biscuits.
Ferrero is the challenger this time, launching the Nutella cookie in an attempt to crack Barilla's leadership of the biscuit sector in Italy, where the latter has a 37% market share with products including top-seller Gocciola.
The newcomer is made of pastry and filled with Ferrero's flagship chocolate spread, which was invented by the family-owned food company in 1964.
But Barilla is defending its corner, and is itself preparing to launch a new cookie in a similar vein to Nutella Biscuit: Biscocrema, made of a cocoa cookie covered with Barilla's own spread and topped with a chocolate disk with a white star.
The showdown is the reverse of the state of play in the spreads sector, where Barilla introduced chocolate spread Crema di Pan di Stelle in January to challenge the dominance of Nutella, which has a market share of more than 80% in Italy.
FERRERO'S FIGHTING TALK
"We want Nutella Biscuit to be the best-selling cookie in Italy, reaching annual sales of around 80 million euros," Ferrero Chief Executive for Italy Alessandro d'Este said when he presented the cookie last month.
But Barilla, which is known worldwide for its pasta, does not want to talk about a battle among cookies.
"Biscocrema is more an indulgence product than a biscuit for breakfast ... that's why we are looking at expanding the overall cookie category with it more than competing with others," Barilla's senior marketing executive Julia Schwoerer said at an event to present the new product on Friday.
For Italians, who normally eat biscuits at breakfast, the two cookies offer a sweet snack between meals and could expand the overall biscuit market, which is currently worth 1.2 billion euros ($1.32 billion) in annual sales.
NEXT UP: WORLD CHAMP OREO
The two new cookies could also appeal to customers outside Italy, where biscuits are more often eaten as snacks.
The global market for cookies, worth $73.7 billion according to market research provider Euromonitor International, is dominated by Mondelez with its creme-filled Oreo.
Ferrero's Nutella Biscuits went on sale in Italy last month and the company has already started to sell them in France and aims to gradually spread them across Europe.
Barilla, which will start selling Biscocrema in Italy in January, does not as yet have concrete plans for foreign markets.
($1 = 0.9073 euros)
(Editing by Pravin Char)