And so it happened to Michele Ferrero, Italy’s richest man and the maker of Nutella, who died on Feb. 14 at the age of 89, after a long life of hazelnut chocolate-coated success that took him from a small town in Italy all the way to a fortune worth $23.4 billion.
Ferrero inherited the homonymous company in 1957 from his father, Pietro Ferrero, who owned a bakery in Alba in Piedmont, a region known for the production of hazelnuts. As the story goes, Pietro Ferrero had created in the 1940s a paste of hazelnuts and chocolate (in short supply during the war) which he then turned into a spreadable product called supercrema gianduja.
In 1964, Michele Ferrero rebranded the spread, giving it a more international-sounding name: Nutella. And that was about it.
Nutella’s success—soon followed by other international chocolate and candy hits such as Ferrero Rocher, Kinder Surprise Eggs, and Tic Tac—turned what was a small town business into the fourth-largest candy maker in the world. Ferrero now buys up 25% of the world’s production of hazelnuts.