Ferrero and Nutella, pride of Alba

Alba, the city of the Ferrero Rocher factory

Ferrero and Nutella are the pride of Alba and the story of this commercial success benefited the town situated in Piedmont, Italy.

Visitors who get to Alba are usually familiar with the two popular chocolate delights, Nutella and Ferrero Rocher.  However, not many of our previous international guests knew the name of the family who founded the chocolate factory and still leads it with success nowadays.

Nonetheless, not many people are aware of the fact that Alba is the hometown of Nutella and that’s where the factory is located.

The story of the Ferrero family is of great inspiration and it deserves to be told and shared with everyone.

In this article, we are also going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions: is it possible to visit the Ferrero chocolate factory? Can we buy Nutella from the factory’s outlet store?

Ferrero chocolate, a story of a family

The story unfolds with Pietro Ferrero, born in Farigliano in 1898, who moved to the nearby town of Alba in 1925. The year before he married Piera Cillario, introduced by a common friend and soon she gave birth to Michele, their son.

They shared the same passion for chocolate and sweets and they opened together a first pastry shop in the village of Dogliani.Once in Alba, their first workshop was in via Pierino Belli and soon after a shop was inaugurated on the high street, via Maestra.

At that time, Alba was just a rural centre where people from the nearby villages would visit on market day. Langhe hills were poor, business opportunities were limited and shops were likely to see customers on Sundays only.

However, that was still the best place around to get more visibility.

In the following years Pietro Ferrero and his wife engaged in a new pastry shop in Turin, spent some time in Africa and managed a bigger operation in via Rattazzi in Alba whose production was distributed in Turin’s shop.

pietro ferrero
Pietro Ferrero. Credits

Hazelnut and chocolate in Alba, Piedmont

In the meanwhile, Pietro’s brother, Giovanni Ferrero, established in Dogliani in 1926 an operation as yeast wholesaling. Soon after, he moved to Alba like his brother and begun his retails expansion, proving once again the family’s business talent.

After World War II, by the end of 1945, the two Ferrero brothers were already back in trade. While Pietro was busy running the pastry shop in Turin, Giovanni acquired a large stock of molasses used to produce yeast.

Part of that molasses was given to Pietro who assembled it with milk powder, coconut butter, toasted hazelnuts, chestnut flour making a cheaper alternative to chocolate.

Ferrero and Nutella, a brilliant intuition

This blend was sold in chunks of 2 chilos each, sliced by the weight. The nutty-chocolate taste didn’t contain cocoa, which at that time was out-of-reach luxury.

After a period of new attempts, trying to improve the recipe, Pietro and Piera noticed an instant success of their new confection and decided to call it “Gianduiot”.

That name was not random: it was very similar to the word gianduiotti, the traditional chocolate and hazelnut candy of Turin. Invented in the mid 1800s and sold by the well-established Caffarel chocolate makers, gianduiotti were popular.

On the packaging of Gianduiot was portrayed a local good-hearted character called Gianduia belonging to theatre repertoire. His joyful and high-spirited pantomime was supposed to bring optimism to Italians who were still struggling with the post-war recovery.

La prima pasticceria Ferrero ad Alba
The first Ferrero’s pastry shop in Alba. Credits

Alba, home of Ferrero and Nutella

On May 14th 1946 was enrolled in the Chamber of Commerce of Cuneo the firm named “P. Ferrero di Cillario Pierina” from which originated the Ferrero Group that we know today.

The family moved for good to Alba and after a few months of activity, they found themselves in need of a bigger operation. A first plant was built on a piece of land along the Tanaro river, on Strada Toppino (Via Vivaro), which is still the current location, well visible when driving on the highway around Alba.

Ferrero and Nutella pride of Alba, view from the highway

The origin of a success

As Pietro passed away suddenly in 1949, he barely saw the results of his idea. Pietro will always be remembered as the man who turned a pastry shop in a factory and laid down the groundwork for the success of the following decades.

After the death of Pietro, the widow Piera, with a strong managing mindset, was now in charge of the factory, together with Giovanni, the sales talent of the family.

The young Michele, Pietro’s son, joined the team and from the very beginning he supervised the production, traveling abroad and hunting for the best ingredients and the most modern supplies. His passion for industrial technologies brought him to patent his own machinery which made the Ferrero chocolate factory a leader in the field.

The result was not only an increase of the production but a progressive operation able to make products that required advanced technology. Ferrero got it right in many occasion, before any other competitor within the confectionery industry.

Each investment and strategy was based on a broad and brave vision, often against anyone else’s opinion. Some example of this wise entrepreneurship was the decision to compete on foreign markets in time of historical hardships or the idea to sell chocolate eggs all year round, beyond the traditional Easter season.

Nonetheless, selling iced tea in a light and practical take out package, revealed to be a new concept of a summer soda.

Stabilimento Ferrero ad Alba
Entrance of the Ferrero plant in Alba

From Nutella to Ferrero Rocher

In 1949 jars of spreadable chocolate reached the shelves of groceries. Called “Supercrema”, in 1964 the name was changed in Nutella, with the wider project to conquer foreign market. The English word nut was combined to the Italian-sounding suffix –ella: a winning marketing strategy.

In a time when all competitors were focusing on hard chocolate bars, Michele Ferrero bet on a soft chocolate and hazelnut spread. As times were changing and chocolate was finally more affordable, Nutella contained more cocoa and cocoa butter that its predecessor Gianduiot.

Numerous commercial hits made Ferrero and Nutella the pride of Alba. Mon Chéri was another example of a name designed to attract international customers. This hard chocolate shell filled with a cherry required the expertise of engineers who had to study how to keep the filling liquid after production.

Ferrero became a popular brand with clever advertisement campaigns on television that turned some products into cultural icons.

La Nutella è stata inventata ad Alba
Nutella was invented in Alba. Photo by Mikael Stenberg

In 1968 came the brand Kinder in an effort to engage with an audience of younger ones. In order to do so moms had to be persuaded so milk was advertized as the main ingredient of candies, rather than chocolate, claiming to feed kids with healthy snacks.

That same year Ferrero developed Pocket Coffee, a chocolate shell filled with real liquid espresso coffee, a technique similar to the one of Mon Chéri. In 1969 Tic Tac mints saw the light and eight years later the summer-iced-tea Estathé came out. Finally in 1982 Ferrero Rocher golden wraps made it one of the most exported pralines across all continents.

Most products that came out on the market were a huge success back then and they are popular still today. A few others were taken out of production such as the 1953 chocolate bar “Sultanino”.  Periodically new confections see the light like the recent Nutella Biscuits which have originated a big fuss on the internet.

Ferrero Rocher
Ferrero Rocher. Photo by Isabella e Louisa Ficher

Ferrero and Nutella pride and success of Alba

The expansion of the Ferrero turned the Group in a multinational enterprise which remained family owned. The first plant to be opened over the Alps was in Germany in 1957 and soon after came Belgium, France and Holland. By the end of the 1970s, Ferrero opened in Asia and Australia.

Today there are 25 factories scattered around the globe.

In an effort to satisfy and tune with local taste, different versions of the same product were developed. There are certain Ferrero’s candies available in some Countries and not in others.

Decades of growth based on innovation and little debts have been in line with the ethic values of the company, aiming to support local communities. For instance, next to the German plant was established “Villa Piera” a compound of accommodations for workers. The goal was to avoid daily commuting and enhance life’s quality of their employees.

Michele had two sons Pietro and Giovanni, named respectively after his father and uncle. After the unexpected loss of Pietro in 2011, today’s chairman is Giovanni who mainly works from the headquarter in Luxembourg. Giovanni Ferrero not only focuses on its native brands, like his father always recommended, but he implemented a new strategy of acquisitions such as Nestlé.

Ferrero e Nutella orgoglio di Alba e delle Langhe
View of the town of Alba with the Ferrero plant in the bacground

How the town of Alba benefited

In the early 1950s Ferrero’s sale network was the largest ever seen in Italy at that time. The ongoing success of the Group brought revenue to Alba and to the surrounding area, fighting against the depopulation of the Langhe hills.

Shuttle bus service was introduced to bring workers from the remote villages of the hills to Alba and back home at the end of their shift. It was a significant sustain for workers that rarely could afford a car back then.

In a time when many farmers would consider to leave behind their farms and move to Turin, aspiring to a full-time job at FIAT’s assembly line, Ferrero was a local source of employment.

New positions opened in the chocolate factory and in the office. Moreover, an entire collateral economy gravitated around Ferrero, including new rural activities related to hazelnut crops.

Ferrero e Nutella orgoglio di Alba in foto vintage

Ferrero buses bringing workers to the factory. Credits

Ferrero chocolate gives back to the community

What makes Ferrero Group a unique example of multinational company, is the personal approach with its employees. People in Alba and surrounding areas have great respect of both the employment laid by Ferrero as well as of the family that runs the company.

The Ferrero family has always kept a low-profile lifestyle and avoided gossip despite their social status and that’s something that local people appreciate.

The strong relationship between the Group and the local community goes beyond the job opportunity. It is actually a deep sense of respect that find its roots in everything that the factory has given back to Alba since the 1950s.

For many weeks after the death of Michele Ferrero, occurred in 2015, most shops in Alba displayed on their windows a picture of him and a message of gratitude. A simple but touching farewell for a beloved man and a virtual hug to a family to which the town feels related to.

Still today, like decades ago, Ferrero focuses on environment friendly operations, strive for the highest quality and supports locals.

Ferrero Foundation

Michele Ferrero founded in 1983 the Ferrero Foundation, named after its parents and his uncle Giovanni. The sleek and modern building designed by architect Valerio Demaria features an auditorium, gym and large venues for special events.

At first the Foundation donated scholarships and in the last decades it organized art exhibitions of national relevance.

The goal is to give back to the community and, nonetheless, to support retired employees.

Over 3500 former workers and their spouses are entitled to benefit from an array of daily activities, such as sport, cultural events, travel. An investment to say thank you to people who have contributed to the success of the Group and to let them discover new opportunities during ageing.

La Fondazione Ferrero ad Alba
Ferrero Foundation main gate

Guided tours of the Ferrero chocolate factory in Alba?

As of August 2020, the Ferrero chocolate factory in Alba has never allowed the general public to enter their premises.

walking tour of Alba with a local expert includes some of the locations where this family story begun and references to the local social background.

When a tour of the region involves transportation with a car or a bus, then it is possible to drive in front of the main entrance of the plant where the large Ferrero sign can be spotted. However, only employees are allowed to enter those gates.

Ferrero outlet store in Alba

The Ferrero chocolate factory in Alba has an outlet shop open only to employees and to members of the law enforcement.

Ferrero’s products are available for sale in any grocery store and some of them are seasonal. Among the lean communication strategy of the Group there is the choice to pull back from the market chocolate candies during the summer months.

As the company is aiming to high quality, the summer heat tend to melt chocolate and to compromise the overall condition of the product. Therefore, Ferrero decided not to disappoint their customers by limiting the seasonality of pralines and other candies.

Massive advertisement campaigns are usually set in fall to inform the audience that Ferrero’s chocolate is back in grocery stores, emphasizing the strive for excellence.

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