Going nuts for hazelnuts – 3 lessons startups can pick from the Nutella story

Nutella addicted‘Nutella’ has become synonymous with ‘chocolate spread’ around the world. Bread, waffles, crepes, cakes, brownies, ice cream, bacon – have all been smothered by this delightful Italian hazelnut chocolate creation. Ferrero, an Italian company, introduced Nutella to the market on April 20th, 1964, but legend suggests that it was consumed on May 18th for the first time. In addition to the spread, Ferrero’s other famous products include Ferrero Rocher, Raffaello, Kinder and Tic Tac.

How it began?

Nutella, however, didn’t start off as the creamy delight it is today. In the 1940s, Pietro Ferrero, a confectioner and founder of Ferrero S.P.A., invented ‘Giandujot’, or ‘Pasta Gianduja’. At the time, there was a shortage of chocolate due to rationing of cocoa in World War II, so he used hazelnuts instead, which were available in plenty in the Northwestern region of Italy.

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Last year, some 365 million kilos of Nutella were consumed, roughly the weight of the Empire State Building.

The chocolate was produced as a solid block of chocolate that had to be cut with a knife. This solid block was later reinvented into a creamy version called ‘Supercrema’, in 1951. Pietro’s son, Michele Ferrero, further revamped ‘Supercrema’ with the intent of marketing the product across Europe, and today we have Nutella.

Fifty years hence, Nutella is a global phenomenon, produced in 11 factories worldwide and consumed in over 150 countries. In fact, Nutella has a dedicated Unofficial World Nutella Day on February 5th , where “thousands of bloggers and fans worldwide celebrate Italy’s edible treasure with online and offline tributes”. An interesting fact about Nutella; the French Nutella and the German Nutella are different. The French version has a creamier and smoother consistency, while the German version has a richer and dense consistency. This is because of the type of bread native to these places; French bread is generally softer and fluffier, hence the creamy version, since the harder chocolate would be difficult to spread. The German Nutella complements the rather coarse and dense German breads.

What goes in it?

According to an OECD report on global supply chains, nearly all the ingredients for Nutella are sourced internationally. “Some inputs are locally supplied, for example the packaging or some of the ingredients like skimmed milk. There are, however, ingredients that are globally supplied: hazelnuts come from Turkey, palm oil from Malaysia, cocoa from Nigeria, sugar from Brazil (but also from Europe) and the vanilla flavour from France,” states the report.

"Each 15g portion contains two whole hazelnuts, some skimmed milk and cocoa."

“Each 15g portion contains two whole hazelnuts, some skimmed milk and cocoa.”

Why is it so special?

Roberta Sassatelli, Associate Professor of Cultural Sociology at Milan University, spoke to BBC about how Nutella started off as the epitome of ‘pop lux’ (popular luxury) for Italians. “It was something above average, which wasn’t a necessity. It was something very sweet and modern and different from the classic sweets in Italy. So, to Italians it meant both modernity and the possibility of giving yourself a treat,” she added.

She went on to talk about Nutella’s triumphant marketing strategy. “The company has been particularly good at marketing Nutella as a good ingredient for a nutritious breakfast, emphasizing the hazelnuts and milk rather than the high content of sugar and saturated fat. It is, in fact, nearly 57% sugar and 32% fat, about a third of which is saturated,” she said.

Birthday Celebrations

Nutella turned 50 on May 18th, and there were worldwide celebrations to mark this chocolaty day. A dedicated website has been Nutella lovecreated, inviting fans from across the world to share their Nutella experiences. They’re calling the campaign  ‘50 years full of stories’ and as of now, close to 50,000 Nutella-filled stories from across the world have been shared. Offline celebrations began in Ferrero’s home town of Alba on Saturday, along with events being planned in 50 countries.

More gourmet celebrations are being spear-headed by New York pastry chef Dominique Ansel with his croissant-doughnut hybrid, dubbed ‘cronut’, stuffed with Nutella. These mouth-watering delights, however, will only be available for one day, May 19th, as part of the celebrations in New York City.

For some even grander validation, the Italian Postal Service has marked the anniversary by issuing a special stamp to pay homage to Nutella, putting the spread on the same pedestal as Galileo, Michaelangelo and the Roman Emperor Augustus.

3 lessons to learn from Nutella:

1.     Resourceful

Nutella was a smart solution to a tricky problem. Pietro Ferrero didn’t see the unavailability of chocolate as a barrier to making chocolate spread! His resourcefulness helped create a product that has become a commonality on household grocery lists across the world. The company is the single largest user of hazelnuts across the world, using nearly 25% of the entire world production. There are an estimated 97 hazelnuts in one 750g jar of Nutella. This is a great example of how inventiveness can pay off.

2.     Evolution of product

It initially started off as a block of chocolate, and then turned creamy. Nutella has changed its appearance, and has also been made differently for different markets to add to the convenience of use. One Jar of Nutella is sold every 2.5 seconds throughout the world – that’s how popular it is now. Adaptability to the market demand allows an organisation to cater to many more, and draw a larger business.

3.     Branding

Nutella’s branding strategy has been spot on throughout its existence. They had positioned themselves, since inception, as part of a balanced breakfast – by encouraging kids to eat whole grains. The strategy highlighted the presence of hazelnut and milk in the spread. The largest demographic served by Nutella are mothers and children, the amount of Nutella being sold and consumed is staggering – all this even though it’s a sugary and fatty chocolate paste! This example proves how important the image of a company is.

What is your favourite Nutella recipe and story? Tell us in the comments section below!


Arjun Mehra

Arjun Mehra