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Happy birthday Nutella! The curious history behind the world-famous spread

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Happy birthday Nutella! The curious history behind the world-famous spread
Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP
11:13 CEST+02:00
Fifty-three years ago today, the first jar of what we now call Nutella was sold from a bakery in Alba, Piedmont. Not long after, the chocolate-hazelnut spread would conquer the entire world.

But the unusual - and sometimes controversial - history of the world-famous spread might surprise even its most dedicated fans. Here are some of the most bizarre facts about Nutella, from its humble beginnings to world domination.

It all started as a post-war “story of poverty”

When Michele Ferrero, the son of a small town pastry maker, decided to follow in his father's footsteps, he started from humble beginnings.

Nutella could be called an 'austerity recipe' - in the 1950's, the Second World War and rationing had left chocolate in short supply in Italy. So Ferrero came up with the idea of adding hazelnuts, which were cheaper and more readily available than cocoa, to make the spread go further. 

"It began as a story of poverty," Italy's Economic Development Minister once said. But the nut-chocolate combination was a hit.

 

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Fifty years later, however, its owners were far from poor...

Fifty years after that first jar, Nutella's inventor was ranked as the richest person in Italy and 30th richest in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Michele Ferrero died the following year, leaving his widow Maria Franca Fissola the world's richest Italian, her wealth estimated at some €20 billion.

And Ferrero International keeps on growing, apparently unaffected by the economic crisis which has devastated many Italian businesses. 

On the last business update in August last year, the company has invoiced €10.3 billion, a growth of 8.2% compared to the previous year. The company has truly conquered the world, with Ferrero products found in 170 countries.

Hard beginnings

Nutella jars are now universally recognizable, but they bear very little resemblance to the very first batch.

Ferrero called the initial version Pasta Gianduja, named after a similar recipe from Turin. And it was first made in solid blocks, with the creamy, spreadable version only appearing in 1951.

Colossal amounts

The amount of Nutella produced in a year weighs as much as the Empire State building, and the hazelnuts used to make the spread over a two-year period could fill a basket of the size of the Colosseum.

Photo: AFP

It almost caused a diplomatic incident

In addition to the countless arguments between spouses and flatmates over who finished the Nutella, the seemingly innocuous spread almost caused a fall-out between Italy and France.

In 2015, the French Ecology Minister, Ségolène Royal, said the Italian spread was unsafe for the health of her citizens and for the good of the planet.

"We have to stop eating Nutella," she said on TV.

Royal's Italian counterpart responded, tweeting that she should "leave Italian products alone" and saying he planned to have "bread and Nutella for tea tonight".

A controversial recipe

The reason for Royal's comments was that the Paris climate summit, taking place at the time, was raising awareness of environmental worries linked to palm oil production.

But you can now enjoy Nutella with a clean conscience: the palm oil used to produce the spread was later, in 2017, recognized by the European Parliament as a “Sustainable product”:

The Ferrero Company indeed has over the years demonstrated its commitment to environmental sustainability, and is a leading example for many other firms. In 2015, it joined the Palm Oil Innovation Group, and it supported the Amsterdam Declaration “In Support of a Fully Sustainable Palm Oil Supply Chain by 2020”.

Photo: AFP

Not a suitable name for children

How much do you love Nutella? One French couple enjoyed the treat so much they tried to name their child after it - but their request was rejected in court. Judges said baby Nutella "risked being mocked", so the parents instead had to settle for Ella.

There is much more beyond the surface of the glass jar

You know about the chocolate and nuts, but there's much more to Nutella. The ingredients used are sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts (13%), lean cocoa (7.4%), skimmed milk powder (6.6%), whey powder, emulsifiers: lecithins (soya) and vanillin.

And the way that Ferrero sources its two main ingredients, hazelnuts and cocoa, exemplifies the philosophy of the entire company.

The hazelnut are cultivated in Italy and Turkey, and the company also invests in the growing economies of countries such as Georgia, Chile, South Africa and Australia as the next growers. 

Cocoa is mainly produced in Western Africa and Equador, and because Ferrero uses almost 120.000 tonnes of cocoa beans every year, they stress the importance of preserving the production as well as the environment. For this reason, Ferrero joined the "World Cocoa Association" for the control of the sustainable development and for the good of the indigenous civilisations. 

So now you know that the creamy jars of deliciousness are actually a Pandora's box of unusual stories...

With reporting by Caterina Zita

 

 

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