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The “nut” turns 60


60 years ago, a small pastry shop in northern Italy invented a spread that made a career: a brown, highly sugary cream called Nutella. How did it become a global success?

Jörg Seisselberg

Global success was born out of necessity. In the 1930s, pastry chef Pietro Ferrero in Alba in Piedmont, northern Italy, found himself in trouble because he was suddenly missing an important ingredient. “When World War II loomed, there were sanctions against Italy and importing cocoa became expensive,” says Giannandrea Carreri. Ferrero then looked for a cheap and good alternative and experimented with hazelnut cream.

Because hazelnut cream “was available in Alba for a very low price,” explains the journalist from the ADNKronos news agency, who discussed the Ferreros’ success in a podcast. Alba, birthplace of Nutella cream and still home to the Ferrero Group, is located in an area known in Italy as the “Hazelnut Triangle”. Back then, confectioner Ferrero thought his customers might like a sweet cream with a hazelnut flavor – and he was right.

A glass is sold every 2.5 seconds

Today, the Ferrero Group, which now has its administrative headquarters in Luxembourg for tax reasons, sells a jar of Nutella every 2.5 seconds worldwide. The health wave cannot affect the success of the brown spread, which consists of over 50 percent sugar and around 30 percent fat. In the post-Corona financial year 2022/23, Ferrero increased by a whopping 20 percent and achieved a total of 17 billion euros in sales.

Nutella began its global career as a small, sweet snack for ordinary people. At the time, says Carreri, Pietro Ferrero's invention was similar in consistency to the thick quince jam that was very popular in Italy until the middle of the 20th century. But the product of the resourceful confectioner from Alba, says the journalist and podcaster, “consisted of hazelnut cream and became part of the lunch of the workers at work in the area.”

Nutella baked goods in a display

Publicity shy Company patriarch

Nutella production is still in family hands today. The small company in Piedmont has become the third largest confectionery manufacturer in the world – which employs 47,000 people and is estimated to buy over a quarter of the world's hazelnut production. Giovanni Ferrero, current CEO and grandson of hazelnut cream inventor Pietro Ferrero, is listed by Forbes as the richest Italian with a fortune of $43.8 billion. The 59-year-old is considered a sophisticated person, has written seven novels, avoids the public and hardly gives any interviews.

If at all, “Mister Nutella” shows up at major Ferrero events – and only every few years. “It is clear that each generation must discover new limits of what is possible,” said Giovanni Ferrero, for example, at a presentation of his company during the Expo 2015 in Milan. And gave a little insight into his corporate strategy: “We look very pragmatically at how we can strengthen the company and whether opportunities arise that generate sufficient value as a result of the investment.” Shortly afterwards, Ferrero bought the US confectionery division of the food giant Nestlé.

Controversial palm oil remains an ingredient

Under the publicity-shy Giovanni, who took over the management of the company alone after the death of his brother Pietro Ferrero junior in 2011, the issues of social and ecological responsibility have become more important in the company. Journalistic research still shows problems with Ferrero's working conditions abroad. And the controversial palm oil is still an important component of Nutella cream.

According to its own information, Ferrero now uses 100 percent palm oil from sustainable cultivation. In a so-called scorecard from the environmental protection organization WWF from 2021, Ferrero achieved good scores in terms of ecological responsibility among global palm oil buyers. For a company, says Ferrero expert Carreri, it always has to be about accepting the times in which its consumers live. And it is currently a time, says Carreri, “in which consumers want social, ecological and ethical responsibility as well as sustainability.” A company would do well to “adapt to the needs of those who buy its products.”

There are plenty of alternatives: Nutella has a lot of competition.

How the name came about

The name Nutella was invented by Michele Ferrero, the son of the company's founder Pietro and father of the current CEO Giovanni. He refined the family's own recipe for hazelnut cream, which until then was called “Supercrema”. The use of “super” in product names was then banned by the Italian government. Then in 1964 Michele Ferrero took the English “Nut” for nut and the Italian diminutive “ella”. Nutella was born, literally: the nut.

There has been an argument in German-speaking countries for a long time about whether this, that or that Nutella is right. In Italy, the country of birth, it is clear because of the feminine ending – there it is called “la Nutella”, translated: the Nutella.

Jörg Seisselberg, ARD Rome, tagesschau, April 19, 2024 12:02 p.m

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