The mind behind some of Ferrero’s most successful confectionery products, a man named Michele Ferrero, passed away on Saturday (14th Feb) after a long illness. He was 89 years old.
This was the very same man who brought us the Nutella spread 1964, which has become such a staple thousands of households around the world, so much so that it is to many European children what peanut butter is to America. His next product, the mints in little plastic boxes called Tic Tacs, came in 1969, and that also was a global success.
Other products that were made popular by Michele Ferrero include the Kinder Sorpresa chocolate eggs (1974) and of course, the namesake Ferrero Rocher chocolates (1982).
It’s no wonder why Michele Ferrero is the richest man in Italy. The Ferrero SpA company is today valued at about $30 billion, according to some analysts’ recent estimates, and his family has a net worth of $26.5 billion, according to Forbes’ list of richest people.
Here’s a brief history of the chocolate giant, as reported by Wall Street Journal:
Born in 1925, Mr. Ferrero inherited the family business from his father, Pietro Ferrero, who after World War II, had experimented with new ingredients for sweets that could substitute for chocolate because cocoa was in short supply. He settled on pasta gianduja: a butter-like paste that combined hazelnuts with cocoa butter and vegetable oil. The recipe, which formed the basis of what later became known as Nutella, was kept a family secret.
It was Michele Ferrero’s vision to expand internationally. In the 1950s, he opened production plants and offices in Europe. He expanded to the rest of the world starting from the 1970s. All the while the company shunned acquisitions, and instead broke into foreign markets by introducing new products catered to local tastes.
Ferrero is the world’s fourth-biggest chocolate confectionery company, with 8% of the global chocolate market, compared with No. 3 Nestlé, which has 12%, according to consumer research group Euromonitor’s data dated 2013.
Despite the global ambitions, Michele Ferrero was known as a family man, intensely private and distant from the country’s business world. He rarely spoke to media during his life and was regularly absent from the business community’s gatherings. Moreover, the family has always insisted Ferrero SpA was to be kept in family hands and never accepted any deals.
Michele Ferrero led the company from 1949 until the 1990s, when he handed over the role of chief executives to his two sons, Giovanni and Pietro.
In 2009, facing pressure to expand, Pietro Ferrero challenged his father’s deal-averse approach by pushing the company to bid for U.K. candy maker Cadbury PLC, according to people familiar with the matter. The younger Mr. Ferrero was ultimately unable to overcome his family’s skepticism about a potential deal. Ferrero dropped out of the bidding, and Cadbury ended up in the hands of Kraft Foods Inc.
Giovanni Ferrero became sole chief executive in 2011 after brother Pietro died of cardiac arrest while cycling. In a 2013 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Giovanni Ferrero said he plans to continue to increase sales by strengthening the business in markets such as the U.S. and Asia.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella called him a “born entrepreneur”.
Michele Ferrero died in Monte Carlo, where he lived. Funeral services will be held on Wednesday morning in Alba, a small town in the north of Italy where Ferrero’s main plant is based.
Rest in peace, Mr. Michele Ferrero.