“Nutella” by Brian Cantoni, licensed under CC BY 2.0
When hazelnut spreads and cookies drove a whole country nuts
When the Italian confectionery products manufacturer Ferrero released its brand new Nutella Biscuits, nobody expected such a massive success. People simply lost their minds. Everyone wanted to put their hands on these hazelnut cocoa cream-filled cookies, and the situation escalated up until the point when they became nearly impossible to find on sale.
The country’s craving for the product grew so strong that more than 4.2 million units were sold in the first month, with a total turnover of 12 million euros. It is estimated that, if Ferrero manages to keep the trend, it could break the wall of 130 million euros of revenue within a year’s time. Considering that the initial goal was set on 80 million, this looks like quite an achievement.
As astonishing as these figures might be, the most interesting thing to point out here is that a hazelnut-based war has broken out between Ferrero and Barilla, an Italian multinational food company that is mostly known for its pasta all over the globe.
Their best-selling and most-loved creatures, respectively everyone’s favourite Nutella and dunk-in-milk staple Pan di Stelle biscuits, are taking the strife to a whole new level (of dangerously high triglycerides).
What sparked the head-to-head: Pan di Stelle spreadable cream
The tasty confrontation started when Barilla challenged Ferrero on its own chocolaty battlefield, with the creation of a hazelnut cocoa spread. After all, Barilla considered the market too “appetizing” — no pun intended — to leave it all to its sweet enemy. So it came out with a new spread, the Pan di Stelle spreadable cream: 100% Italian hazelnuts, cocoa and crushed Pan di Stelle cookies. Every sweet tooth’s dream.
Its success was easily foreseeable, as the biscuit it took inspiration from has risen to become Barilla’s landmark product over the past decades. Its 11 silver sugary stars shining on the top have indeed become a guarantee of a delicious and out-of-this-world kind of breakfast experience. Moreover, the company’s spread does not include palm oil, making it different from Nutella.
While Italians debated which spread was the best one, the marketing vice-president of Barilla’s bakery branch Mulino Bianco, Julia Schwoerer, said: “There is no competition between Barilla and Ferrero, as we are market leaders with a 37% of share.” She added that the Pan di Stelle cream represented a “natural continuation” of the brand, following the market’s needs.
But Barilla had already thrown down the gauntlet, and Ferrero could not put up with a challenge on its own creamy battleground. So the war was on.
Ferrero’s reaction: all hail Nutella Biscuits
After years of research, Ferrero came out with a new product with one simple goal: increasing its sales — as well as the circumference of our bellies.
In November 2019, Nutella Biscuits received their baptism of fire, and what followed was just great to analyze. During the first three weeks, Ferrero sold 2.6 million packs, namely 57 millions cookies, with 1.5 million being sold during the third week alone. A real cookie craze.
The phenomenon reached worrying levels when Neapolitans touted Nutella Biscuits, taking advantage of a sky-high level of demand and selling each pack for 8 euros.
Barilla’s new weapon: the Pan di Stelle Biscocrema
Undoubtedly, the confrontation reached a level of sugar and lipids never seen before. While in the past Barilla and Ferrero patrolled their own borders — respectively cookies and spreads — today they are mixing up their cards on the table.
The confirmation of such behavior came when Barilla announced the imminent launch of a new biscuit called Pan di Stelle Biscocrema. The product was expected to cut the sales of Nutella Biscuits, and tackle the success of its rival through the use of the same weapon. Live by the cookie, die by the cookie, baby.
Same product, different attitude
Although both the spreads and the biscuits resemble each other to some extent, the companies’ approach is completely different, as both mother houses show a different attitude towards the environment and their consumers’ diet (if applicable).
Firstly, Barilla banned palm oil from its products, using only seed oil instead. In fact, the brand is promoting its rejection to palm oil, a saturated fat that has also prompted devastating deforestation. The move aims to increase the market share by conquering ecologist and eco-conscious customers, showing also the difference between a “green” company like Barilla and one that keeps using palm oil — Ferrero.
But palm oil does not matter to Italians, after all. While Barilla has banned it from its production, Ferrero knows our fellow countrymen like it.
Secondly, Barilla presented its new Pan di Stelle Biscocrema in a two-biscuit pack, in order to highlight that “cookies should be a tiny part of your diet.” On the other hand, Ferrero does not care about your level of fitness (or lack thereof). Ferrero gives you a whole bag of biscuits and challenges you to eat only one per day. As if that could be possible.
It is worth stressing that both companies are taking advantage of a national trend, while obesity is becoming a huge problem, especially for youngsters. And while Italians could be divided into those preferring Nutella or Pan di Stelle cream, the rising number of overweight individuals shows their overall insatiable hunger for junk foods keeps bringing them together. So much for being the masters of the Mediterranean diet.
Nutella and Pan di Stelle should not be regarded only as sweets. They have become real social phenomena: nowadays, they are enjoying a new spotlight also due to recent political events taking place in Italy.
First of all, the new sugar tax on sodas and snacks in the budget law found Luigi Di Maio’s veto. The leader of the 5 Star Movement and Minister of Foreign Affairs, aware of Ferrero and Barilla’s popularity, did not want to be remembered for having increased prices of craved snacks like Nutella and Pan di Stelle cookies. Consequently, the new sugar tax applies only to sodas.
Moreover, the League leader Matteo Salvini is famous for posting on social media pictures of himself feasting on Nutella and (many) other sugar-loaded foods. It is incredible how much a human stomach can withstand in certain cases.
However, Salvini’s passionate love for Nutella took a blow recently. After he discovered that Ferrero uses Turkish hazelnuts along with Italian ones in the spread’s production, the politician criticized the company and boycotted his long-time favourite spread.
Ferrero: the benchmark of Italian economy
Despite his Nutella row, Matteo Salvini deserves some credit for shedding light on how multinational corporations work. As a global company, Ferrero cannot use just Italian goods to produce its famous spread, as Italy does not produce enough hazelnuts for the business. Hence the use of Turkish ones.
According to data provided by the Ferrero group itself, the Italian multinational uses 32% of the global production of hazelnuts. As a consequence, it wouldn’t be possible for the brand to keep a high level of production if it only used Italian hazelnuts.
On the other hand, Salvini’s words bring into the spotlight an interesting phenomenon of the Italian economy. The national production system is poor of raw materials, as goods including oil, metals and grain need to be imported. So, why is Italy (still) one of the most developed countries in the world?
The answer is: because of its transformation industry. In fact, the Italian economy is tremendously qualified in transforming raw materials into finished products with high added value. Why do we need oil, if we can buy olives and refine them in our plants? Why do we need to produce grain, if we can employ the soil to grow olive and fruit groves, and vineyards? Last but not least: why do we need to produce hazelnuts, if we can just buy them from Turkey for a cheap price?
It is simple: we do not need to waste energies on low-profitable activities because our manufacture and transforming industry are great. Since the Second World War, our economic culture has assumed a xenophile trait that gives and delivers a high level of development and wealth.
All of this being said, I’d like to tell Salvini something: dear Matteo, your “Italians first” slogan does not always work, especially when it comes to economic affairs. Maybe, some people should simply dedicate themselves to eat Nutella and Pan di Stelle. It would be a better world. Perhaps a fatter one, but for sure a sweeter world. And God knows how much more sweetness we need in 2020.
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