Pietro Ferrero

Chocolate king Ferrero dies during Cape Town visit

Pietro Ferrero, a chief executive of the famous Ferrero Rocher brand and heir to Italy’s largest fortune, has died at the age of 47 in Cape Town after an apparent heart attack while cycling.

The grandson of Ferrero’s founder and son of Italy’s richest man, he was joint head of the family-run manufacturer with his younger brother Giovanni. The business, producing market-leading brands such as Tic-Tacs, Nutella and Kinder, had a €6.6bn turnover last year.

Ferrero died while bicycling along Victoria Road near Llandudno at 2.57pm on Monday 18 April. He was seen falling off his bike by a passerby who performed CPR to no avail. When paramedics arrived he was declared dead of a suspected heart attack. With two major businesses in SA, he was a regular visitor to the country, was apparently passionate about Cape Town and owns several high-end properties in the city.

“Italy has lost a businessman who embodied the best qualities of our industrial history – the continual search for excellence, creativity, the determination to compete even in difficult moments to defend a brand and make it a symbol,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in a statement.

Pietro Ferrero death comes as his company considers joining a takeover battle for Parmalat, as part of a government- backed group of Italian investors trying to block France’s Groupe Lactalis from gaining control of Italy’s biggest dairy company. In 2009, Ferrero also mulled and abandoned a takeover offer for Cadbury before it was purchased by Kraft Foods.

Ferrero was founded in Alba, Italy, in 1946 when Pietro’s grandparents transformed a small coffee bar and pastry shop into a sweets factory. With cocoa expensive as Italy rebuilt from war, the company experimented with locally abundant nuts as a substitute ingredient, according to its website. Using a cocoa-hazelnut base, Ferrero developed Nutella, now the best-selling sweet spread in the world.

Chairman Michele Ferrero, Pietro’s father, took over the running of the business and increased the family’s fortune to $18 billion, earning him the 31st ranking on Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires for 2011, the top position for any Italian.

The company, which introduced Tic Tacs in the US in 1969, had sales of 6.6 billion euros ($9.4 billion) in the fiscal year ended August 31, up 4.3 percent. More recent innovations include Gran Soleil, a dessert stored at room temperature that turns into an ice-cream-like substance when shaken and frozen. Ferrero has more than 21 600 employees and 18 plants around the world, including one in SA.

Pietro Ferrero gained a biology degree from the University of Turin and was a former director of Ifil, a holding company for another Turin billionaire clan, the Fiat-founding Agnellis. He also previously served as a director of Mediobanca, Italy’s biggest publicly traded investment bank.

Details have emerged about his multimillion-rand properties in some of Cape Town’s most exclusive suburbs. A report in Business Times, says that Ferrero owned, according to deeds office records, several properties purchased for well over R50-million around the Atlantic seaboard.

He owned a glass-encased mansion perched on Chapman’s Peak, overlooking Hout Bay. The house was designed by the area’s in-vogue architect, Stefan Antoni, who said: “Pietro loved cycling, and that stretch between Hout Bay and Bantry Bay was his favourite. He wore cycling shorts just about every time I saw him.”

Ferrero is survived by his wife, Luisa, and three children.

Ferrero Group in SA

The Ferrero group, the fourth largest confectionery company in the world and with a reputation for business secrecy, recently made two significant production investments in SA:

  • A 10,000m2 confectionery factory, built at a cost over R80m, in Walkerville, south of Johannesburg, and commissioned in April 2009. The factory employs some 200 people in the production and packaging of Kinder Joy and Tic-Tac.
  • The creation of a major hazelnut growing industry in SA, starting with the importation of plants by Agrisudafrica, a subsidiary of the Ferrero group. Hazelnuts are an ingredient in almost all Ferrero products. A total of over a million plants were imported over two years by Agrisudafrica, and is probably the biggest ever importation of plant material into SA.

See related article: Ferrero Ithemba SA wins Business Enterprise of the Year Award