Alba, the city of the Ferrero Rocher factory
Ferrero and Nutella are the pride of Alba and the story of this commercial success has benefited the town situated in Piedmont, Italy.
Visitors who get to Alba are usually familiar with the two most 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.
Nonetheless, not many people are aware of the fact that Alba is the hometown of Nutella and that the Ferrero family is still leading the business with great success.
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 center 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 the via Rattazzi in Alba whose production was distributed in Turin’s shop.
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 began his retail 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, and 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.
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. The 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.
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 into 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 in production but a progressive operation able to make products that required advanced technology. Ferrero got it right on many occasions, 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 examples of this wise entrepreneurship was the decision to compete in foreign markets in times 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.
From Nutella to Ferrero Rocher
In 1949 jars of spreadable chocolate reached the shelves of groceries. Called “Supercrema”, in 1964 the name was changed to Nutella, with the wider project to conquer the foreign market. The English word nut was combined with 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 than 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 advertising campaigns on television that turned some products into cultural icons.
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 advertised 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 and Nutella pride and success of Alba
The expansion of Ferrero turned the Group into a multinational enterprise that 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 tastes, different versions of the same product were developed. There are certain Ferrero candies available in some countries and not in others.
Decades of growth based on innovation and little debt have been in line with the ethical 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 life 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 headquarters 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.
How the town of Alba benefited
In the early 1950s, Ferrero’s sales 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.
A 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 leaving behind their farms and moving 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 chocolate gives back to the community
What makes Ferrero Group a unique example of a multinational company, is the personal approach with its employees. People in Alba and surrounding areas have great respect for both the employment laid by Ferrero as well as for 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 finds its roots in everything that the factory has given back to Alba since the 1950s.
For many weeks after the death of Michele Ferrero, which 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.
Still today, like decades ago, Ferrero focuses on environment-friendly operations, strives for the highest quality, and supports locals.
The Ferrero Foundation
Michele Ferrero founded in 1983 the Ferrero Foundation, named after his 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 sports, cultural events, and 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 aging.
Are there Guided Tours of the Ferrero chocolate factory in Alba?
As of April 2023, the Ferrero chocolate factory in Alba has never allowed the general public to enter their premises.
A walking tour of Alba with a local expert includes some of the locations where this family story began and references to the local social background.
Guests arriving at Alba by car or bus can drive with the local guide in front of the main entrance of the plant dominated by the large Ferrero sign. However, only employees are allowed to enter the gates.
The Ferrero chocolate outlet store in Alba
The Ferrero chocolate factory in Alba has an outlet shop open only to employees and to members of law enforcement.
Otherwise, 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 pullback from the market of chocolate candies during the summer months.
As the company is aiming for high quality, the summer heat tends to melt chocolate and 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 the fall to inform the audience that Ferrero’s chocolate is back in grocery stores, emphasizing the strive for excellence.