Fifty years of Nutella: sweet fortune behind Italy’s richest man

Half a century ago today in the tiny Italian town of Alba, something special was happening: the first batch of Nutella was being made. Italian sweets maker, Ferrero, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Nutella this year, a product that began life as a post-war rationing concept to a global favourite today.

The Nutella story starts ­in the lean months after the end of the World War II when a young pastry maker from Piedmont, in the north of Italy, was looking for a way to compensate for a shortage of cocoa.

His name was Pietro Ferrero and he began to experiment. The region specialised in ­growing hazelnuts and Ferrero realised he could bulk out the cocoa with nut paste.

His first contribution came in 1946 with a hard cocoa and hazelnut brick that had to be sliced with a knife. He named it Giandujot after a famous ­carnival figure of the time.

A few years later, he found a way to add vegetable oil to the mix, creating a spreadable v­ersion called SuperCrema — the forerunner of Nutella.

Making the nut and chocolate combination soft was key. Now a little chocolate spread could go a long way. And crucially it could be spread on bread, a vital staple of the Italian diet.

You might not have been able to afford chocolates in postwar Italy, but you could afford a taste of SuperCrema. In 1964 SuperCrema turned into Nutella, thanks to Pietro’s son, Michele, who improved the recipe and developed the ­distinctive glass jar.

The new name was an attempt to appeal to an international audience — nuts for an Anglo-America coolness, and ‘ella’ to give it a soft, Italian ending.

By 1966 it was on sale in France and Germany — and by 1977 production began in Australia. Today, around a quarter of all hazelnuts grown in the world end up in the spread.

‘‘They made such a blend, ­people became crazy about it almost immediately,’ says ­Ferrero President Francesco Paolo Fulci. ‘It is something absolutely ­fantastic because every time we enter a new market there is an immediate wave of interest for this product. We almost don’t need to do anything.’

A jar is sold every 2.5 seconds globally. The company produces enough Nutella each year to create a smear of spread that would circle the world 1.4 times. In the UK alone sales are worth nearly £30 million a year — and rose last year by more than 22 per cent.

Part of its success is down to the way that the middle classes have embraced the product despite it being so obviously unhealthy. Clever marketing means it was promoted from the very start as an everyday luxury, an affordable guilty pleasure.

Ferrero also talked up Nutella’s naturalness and has suggested it can be part of a balanced breakfast, sometimes to the irritation of consumer groups.

It’s certainly true that it is mostly natural. A 750g jar ­contains 97 hazelnuts, along with sugar, vegetable oil, cocoa and skimmed milk powder. It also has whey powder and soya lecithin to keep it glossy and creamy, along with a drop of vanilla flavouring. But healthy it isn’t.

More than half of Nutella (56.7 per cent) is pure sugar, while 30 per cent is fat. Some of that is the fat found in hazelnuts, but around 20 per cent of the spread is semi-solid palm oil. Just 13 per cent is hazelnuts. And there are 100 calories in one tablespoon.

Nutella got into trouble with the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency a few years ago after claiming ‘we want all our kids to have a balanced breakfast’ and implying that each 400g jar ­contained 52 hazelnuts, skimmed milk, cocoa powder — and nothing else. The ASA ruled that the advert exaggerated the health benefits.

But those criticisms have been shrugged off by fans and by the parent company Ferrero, the world’s fourth-largest chocolate maker which also sells Kinder, Tic Tacs and those Ferrero Rocher truffles.

For them Nutella is big ­business — sales make up a fifth of Ferrero’s annual £6.5 billion turnover.

Today the company employs 30,000 people and has 20 ­factories around the world. Its reclusive 89-year-old owner, Michele Ferrero, is worth £15 billion — making him the richest person in Italy and, according to Forbes, the 21st richest man in the world.

The Nutella bandwagon shows no signs of slowing. Ferrero has opened Nutella Cafes in ­Chicago and New York selling pastries and treats featuring the spread. Such is the ­popularity and pride in its home country that the Italian postal service issued a Nutella stamp earlier this month to mark the 50th anniversary.

The company also celebrated the day with street parties throughout Europe and a pop concert in Naples.

It may be sickly sweet, unhealthy and terrible for your teeth and waistline. But the popularity of Nutella just keeps on (ahem) spreading.

Source: The Telegraph, Daily Mail

Additional reading:

Top ten wealthiest in food and drink 2014

Ferrero unwrapped: Italy’s secretive confectioner opens its doors

US: Nutella lawsuit highlights marketing risks