Italy: Rich in hazelnuts: This is how the Ferreros' Nutella empire came into being

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days.

Italy: Rich in hazelnuts: This is how the Ferreros' Nutella empire came into being

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days. Afterwards it will only be available to read at Like stern, Capital belongs to RTL Deutschland.

You couldn't imagine it being more beautiful: Pietro and Giovanni Ferrero were born as the sons of extremely poor farmers in hilly Piedmont. There is only one thing in abundance in this small town: hazelnuts. They are even fed to pigs and chickens. But the two brothers didn't want to become farmers, so in 1923 they opened their first café in their home village, a "Pasticceria", where they sold sweets and chocolate.

They are expanding into the nearby town of Alba. There they expanded their pastry shop into a small chocolate factory with a laboratory in the 1940s. They open another pastry shop in Turin. The Second World War put an end to further expansion plans; cocoa is hardly available anymore and is very expensive. But necessity leads to an invention that is the reason for the fame and fortune of the Ferrero family to this day. Pietro creates the precursor to Nutella cream: the Giandujot. It essentially consists of sugar syrup and ground hazelnuts, plus coconut butter and - for color - a mini pinch of cocoa.

The pseudo-chocolate wrapped in tin foil became a hit in starving post-war Italy: sweet, greasy, an excellent calorie bomb at a time when there was little else and calories was not yet a dirty word. When Pietro Ferrero died of a heart attack in his early fifties in 1949, his brother Giovanni and Pietro's son Michele continued the family business. The latter discovered that the softer chocolate was much easier to spread on bread, "Cremalba", later renamed "Supercrema", conquered Italy and Europe. The first factory opened in Germany in 1956, and the next one in France a little later. It is the start of rapid expansion in Europe. In the following decades, Ferrero founded new companies and production facilities around the world.

Because the Christian Democratic government of the post-war period banned superlatives in brand names as blasphemy, Michele Ferrero came up with a new name in 1964: Nutella. The spread became a symbol of the economic boom of the 1960s. "Nutella is more than a cream made from hazelnuts and cocoa, it is a spiritual category. It is more than a spread, it is a symbol of the generations," the daily newspaper "La Repubblica" recently cheered.

Michele Ferrero turns out to be a natural talent for marketing, product placement, customer loyalty, emotional customer appeal and in the branding of his confectionery: Mon Chéri (1956), Nutella (1964), Tic Tac (1969), Kinder-Surprise (1974) and finally Ferrero Rocher (1982 ) are still iconic names in the global candy world today. In his homeland in Piedmont, the family businessman, who died in 2015, is considered a hero who built many factories and brought jobs and prosperity to poor farmers.

To this day, the group is completely in family hands. Giovanni – son of Michele and grandson of Pietro – has been at the helm of the Ferrero Group since 2015. He runs his company from Luxembourg, where the group has its tax headquarters, reports Forbes. He should live in Brussels.

Giovanni Ferrero is not only the richest man in Italy, but according to the "Bloomberg Billionaires Index" he is one of the 30 richest people in the world - he ranks 29th, to be precise. His estimated assets are around 42 billion euros. As president of Ferrero, Giovanni undertook the first acquisitions in the company's history — and hired the first non-family chairman, Forbes writes. In addition to his work for the Ferrero brand, he writes a lot of novels, eight of which have already been published.

To this day, Nutella is one of the Ferrero Group's most important revenue generators. Every day, 350 tons of Nutella are consumed worldwide, 770 million jars per year, which, if placed end to end, would be 1.7 times the circumference of the Earth.

Germans have always been among Nutella's most loyal customers. In 2022/2023, Ferrero achieved sales of 17 billion euros. The Ferrero Group today has over 47,212 employees working in 106 national companies and 37 production sites. With Hershey and Mars, the Italians are among the largest confectionery sellers in the world.

“How Nutella is eating Italy” is the title of a reckoning with Ferrero in the Swiss magazine “Reportagen”. According to this, Ferrero is currently ruthlessly expanding hazelnut cultivation in Italy with political support. According to the "Hazelnut Italy" plan, Ferrero wants to gain "at least another 22,000 hectares of cultivated area" and thus increase its production by 30 percent.

The background to the plan are problems with the main supplier Türkiye. It's about Kurdish child labor during the harvest and the lower quality and quantity of hazelnuts per hectare compared to Italy. Ferrero has already signed plans with a number of Italian regions, including Tuscany and Umbria. Opponents criticize that completely unsuitable terrain is being used for hazelnut production, which is leading to the degradation of the soil and landscape. In addition, there is demonstrably high use of pesticides.