Every year Italians consume at least 60 million jars, and everyone has memories of running secretly into the kitchen, away from prying eyes, to seek a well-hidden jar of Nutella, and begin the ritual, spreading on bread or eating right from the jar.
One of the reasons behind Nutella’s success over the years has been Ferrero’s formidable ability to create demand and to adapt the advertising message to the times. In the 1960s, campaigns aimed at parents, who were encouraged to give a small prize to their children; then, in the 1970s Ferrero addressed children directly, emphasizing the merits of the “genuine” snack with pane e Nutella. With the emergence of protests against advertising as creating false needs, Ferrero has again adapted, leveraging on the consumer’s emotional and subjective gratification. Finally, in the third millennium Nutella has focused on personalization – like having one’s name on the jar – on promoting stories in the social networks of Nutella moments, with decorated gender-friendly jars and even introducing Nutella Bluetooth speakers.
On April 20 1964 the first jar of Nutella came out from the Ferrero factory in Alba. Its origins, however, date back to the 1940s and before. At least from the 1920s the Ferreros – Pietro first and Michele afterwards – had pursued a recipe of an inexpensive chocolate snack to be eaten with bread.
Pietro Ferrero, a pastry chef in Turin, used to watch workers go to their factories bringing bread with tomatoes and cheese for a meal. He thought that if he could give those workers something sweet and inexpensive to eat with bread, he would hit a jackpot. In Piedmont at the time there was already a kind of chocolate made with cocoa and chopped hazelnuts: the “gianduja”. Hazelnuts are abundant in Piedmont and the peasants did not even know what to do with them.
In 1925 Pietro Ferrero perfected the so-called “pastone” (pastry mesh) of chocolate and hazelnuts (Nutella’s grandfather), very good to eat with bread. Of course, more than by workers, it was immediately appreciated by children, who became Ferrero’s target market.
When the war came, Pietro closed his shop in Turin and took refuge in Alba where he continued to work at his still too hard chocolate mixture. In the autumn of 1945 or early 1946, he found on a shelf a forgotten jar of cocoa butter. He added it to the mixture and created the Pasta Gianduja (or Giandujot), which was then packaged in the form of a small loaf, wrapped in tin foil, cut into slices and sold at cheap prices. The ingredients were more or less those of today: sugar, hazelnuts, cocoa and vegetable fats. In stores the Giandujot cost 4-5 times less than traditional chocolate.
The next step came when it became spreadable. Pietro Ferrero died March 2, 1949, and was replaced by his son Michele. Legend has it that in the particularly hot summer of 1949 the gianduja melted and some retailers began to sell it as a spread cream. Another version of the legend is that the product melted in a warehouse in Alba and they were forced to transfer it into jars. Ferrero altered the formula making it softer and spreadable, and called it “Supercrema.”
The Nutella brand
In 1962, Italy passed a law banning names with superlatives (such as super-, ultra-, stra-) for consumer products. Ferrero had to choose a new brand name: “Nutella” registered in October 1963, came from merging the English word “nut”, from the typically Italian ingredient hazelnut in the gianduja, with the Italian positive-sounding suffix “ella”. The winning combination came with the colors: the black “N” and the other letters in red. The first jar came out on April 20, 1964, starting the Nutella era.
In the following years Nutella became a myth, a global phenomenon. In 1967 the legendary Carosello TV ads developed a highly successful campaign and Italy fell in love with Nutella. In the seventies, Nutella emigrated, and children of other countries started to appreciate Nutella as a cure for small sorrows and an antidote to depression and loneliness.
How did this happen? The aura that Ferrero managed to build around this product is amazing. The uniqueness of Nutella is not due to the quality of the product, or to the quality/price ratio but to advertising. Many attempts to imitate the recipe failed miserably, not because Nutella is unreachable from the quality point of view, but because no one was able to produce something equally attractive at the same price. In the popular imagination, Nutella is now the absolute leader and all imitations are seen as inferior. The consumer is accustomed to the taste of Nutella, and wants only that, considering inferior even products with a different, but better taste.
Today advertising aims directly to social and psychological needs with new slogans such as “What would the world be like without Nutella?” Nutella is certainly a legendary product, known and appreciated all over the world. But is it really a quality product?
Like Coca-Cola and other companies, Ferrero has a secret recipe, carefully protected in the official factory in Alba. The cocoa butter of 1945 was replaced by a “mixture of vegetable oils”, which is one of the best kept secrets from the company. So as not to violate the secret, Ferrero chose to lose some lawsuits (one in the U.S.) aiming at the impossibility of identifying the mysterious “vegetable oils”. The ingredients of the recipe in the Italian label are: sugar (56%), vegetable oils (19%), hazelnuts (13%), cocoa, skimmed milk powder (6.6%), whey powder, soy lecithin (emulsifier), vanillin.