Michele Ferrero – A Real-life Willy Wonka

Have you ever wondered who created the all-time favorite Nutella? Or who came up with the idea of the iconic and luxurious Ferrero Rocher? We have to thank Michele Ferrero for all those sweet inventions that changed the lives of billions of people. 

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Some people call Michele the real-life Willy Wonka. Young Ferrero managed to grow the company and make it famous across the continents. Eventually, he became the wealthiest businessman of his time.

Michele Ferrero - A Real-life Willy Wonka

Early Life of Michele Ferrero

Michele Ferrero was born in Dogliani on April 26th, 1925. His parents were Pietro Ferrero and Piera Cllario. Even though he did not have a university-level education, he still managed to get experience and training. His family owned a bakery, and therefore, Michele had a connection with the business since his early childhood.

His father was the one who actually founded Ferrero SpA Company. Michelle managed to develop the confectionery company from a small bakery and cafe in Piedmont. Near the bakery, he had a lab that supplied his wife’s pastry shop. Who would have thought that the small family business would become one of the largest confectionery manufacturers in the world?

Even though the cocoa supply was short back in time because of World War II, manufacturers had to start thinking of something new. While the amount of cocoa was declining, the hazelnut market grew significantly. So, clever Italians decided to combine those two. That is how the famous Italian delicacy “Gianduja” was created. Pietro created the nutty chocolate product that had a brick shape and was supposed to be sliced.

In 1962, at the age of 37, he married Maria Franca Fissolo. They had two children, Giovanni Ferrero and Pietro Ferrero Jr. By that time, Michele was already a successful confectionery manufacturer. His wife became a good supporter and helper for him. 

First Steps in the Confectionery Industry

Ferrero decided to join the family business in 1949 when he was just 24 years old. The reason for this was the death of his father. Even though Michele Ferrero joined the family business, he was still too young to take on such a huge responsibility. So, after Pietro’s death, his brother took over.

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One of the first decisions of the company was to aggressively target the market overseas and spread its product. In the same decade, Ferrero started to grow in the European, American, Asian, and Australian markets. The main product presented by the brand was Ferrero Rocher Hazelnut Chocolate.

Today, Ferrero SpA is a chocolate manufacturing company that is considered to be the second biggest candy manufacturer in Europe. In that case, the Mars Wrigley confectionery company is first. Currently, the company has 18 factories located all around the world and employs more than 20,000 people. 

How Was Nutella Invented?

The breaking point in the success of the company was when Michele Ferrero created and launched the Nutella Hazelnut chocolate spread. In 1964, Nutella soon became one of the most famous brands of sweets. Actually, it was a rebranding of the Gianduja, which was made from hazelnuts and cocoa. Michele created a creamier version of it by adding vegetable oil and putting it in a glass jar. In 1988, Nutella gained huge popularity when the brand sponsored the Italian national football team. 

All around the world, there is rarely a person found who does not love Nutella. Back in 1964, it was called SuperCrema. However, soon the name was changed to Nutella. Nutella is a combination of the English word “nut” and the Latin word “ella.” The main ingredients of the spread today are sugar, palm oil, cocoa powder, and hazelnuts.

The Great Inventions of Michele Ferrero

Michele Ferrero invented and created many of our favorite confectionery brands, including Nutella, Mon Chéri, Ferrero Rocher, and Rafaello. Did you know that the Kinder Surprise egg was created by Ferrero? And the famous Tic Tac and breath mints are also creations of Ferrero SpA.

The production process of sweets has been very secretive. Michele fiercely guided his signature recipes and protected them. Tours of production sites and headquarters are banned and not allowed. The machines and techniques that are used are made by the in-house engineering department.

Ferrero Rocher

The Ferrero corporation is well known for its Ferrero Rocher line. Michele wanted to create a candy brand that would be high in quality and accessible for everybody. Therefore, he introduced the Ferrero Rocher confection in 1979. Each sphere has an aluminum foil wrapped around it and is placed in a paper liner. 

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The candy became vintage and iconic symbol of luxury. It is strongly associated with Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Chocolate candy became especially popular because of its “ambassador” advertisement that was aired in the 1990s.

Mon Cheri

“Mon Cheri” translates from French to “my darling”. The candy has a cherry in the center that is floating in the liquor. The filling is covered with dark chocolate. The candy was created by Michele Ferrero in 1956, and the production process started in 1960.

Kinder Surprise

Michele Ferrero worked closely with William Salice and they created the iconic Kinder Surprise egg candy in 1974. Michele wanted to replicate the Italian family tradition. According to the story, the children were given chocolate eggs and there were toys hidden in the eggs. They replicated it and created the Kinder Surprise brand. 

The brand was unexpectedly successful and became famous not only among children but also among adults. The toys that were found in the chocolate eggs became collectibles for adults too. More than 30 billion chocolate Kinder Eggs have been sold worldwide since their appearance.

Tic Tac

Tic Tac was invented by Michele Ferrero in 1969. The tiny hard mints are located in a plastic box, and the lid opens with a little flip. Originally it was called “Refreshing Mints.” However, the name was changed in 1970, and it now represents the clicking sound that we hear when we open a pack. 

The original flavors were mint and orange. However, new ones were added, and today they come in many different flavors. The advertisements state that mints are low in calories, with approximately 1.9 per mint. The product is sold in more than 100 countries all around the world.

Rafaello

Rafaello is a product that was made a little later than Michele’s other inventions. It was marketed in 1990. The candy sphere does not contain chocolate. The spherical wafer is filled with milk cream and almonds and covered in the coconut layer. 

Michele Ferrero – Devoted Manager

Michele Ferrero was targeting the global market and wanted to globalize his company and operations. So, he started production in many different countries. He managed to build eight production centers, located on four different continents. Apart from that, he established sales offices in numerous countries. 

He moved around with his helicopter to be present at every step of production. He went to the labs a lot, where he took part in the testing processes, went to the stores anonymously, and studied customers and employees.

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Those few people who managed to get into their production sites and factories state that they had a tasting room in every factory. In those rooms, Michele and other executives spent time sampling the new inventions.

The Death of Michele Ferrero

Ferrero devoted 66 years of his life to the company he inherited from his father. He managed to create a global phenomenon from a small pastry business. His company today controls 72% of the chocolate hazelnut spread market. 

Michele Ferrero died in 2015 in Monte Carlo. By that time, he was 89 years old. He truly was an admirable person because, at a young age, he managed to create the biggest candy manufacturer company from a small bakery.

Michele soon became one of the richest businessmen in Italy. In 1997, Pietro and Giovanni Ferrero took over the company. Pietro loved cycling, and that became the reason for his death. In 2011. After Pietro’s death, Giovanni became the company’s executive full-time.

Interesting Facts

  • Michele Ferrero’s fortune is more than $26 billion.
  • He was named among the 20th wealthiest people in the world according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
  • He did not like to be out in public very much, and whenever he stepped out, he always wore sunglasses. 
  • Nutella production uses a quarter of the world’s hazelnut supply.
  • Ferrero’s workforce has never been on strike in history. 
  • The production of Ferrero Rocher is a secret, and only a very few journalists have had a chance to visit the production site.

Bottom Line

Michele Ferrero was a fervent Catholic. You could see the Madonna statues everywhere around him: in his house, factories, and offices. Because of his religious spirit, in the church, he started to practice social teachings. Even after he became the head of the company, he always took care of his employees. One of the first things he did was to purchase buses to make employees’ everyday lives much easier. He provided many welfare benefits and free medical services. 

He saw his life as a duty toward the confectionery industry and society. Employees describe Ferrero as very benevolent and generous. He had a strong desire to make unique products and had truly amazing ideas. Michele Ferrero changed the lives of billions of people all around the world.

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