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World

Remembering Michele Ferrero, Candy Kingpin And Pioneer

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The man who invented Nutella - you know, that amazing chocolate-hazelnut spread - has died. Turns out, in addition to inventing Nutella, he also was one of the richest men in the world, and he made a lot of other stuff besides Nutella. He was 89. His name was Michele Ferrero, and food historian Francine Segan joins us now to tell us more about him. Welcome.

FRANCINE SEGAN: Hello.

MCEVERS: Tell us how Ferrero came up with the recipe for Nutella.

SEGAN: Right after the World War II, there was huge shortages of all sorts of food and, of course, the luxury item, chocolate. Michele realized that this would be a great opportunity to re-create something that had been invented because of another shortage right after the Napoleonic wars. And the area of Piedmont - where he's from - invented Gianduja, which is a mix of ground hazelnuts and chocolate, and they made a little candy. So he realized that after World War II, we need a same kind of an invention. Except this time, because the shortages were even greater, he wanted to create a spreadable Gianduja, something that you could put just a little bit on bread so one jar would be enough for weeks for a family of six.

MCEVERS: OK, so basically, something that grew out of scarcity?

SEGAN: Exactly. The scarcities of World War II caused Michele to have to think of how can he give chocolate to the most people in the most economical way possible?

MCEVERS: And then was it a surprise to him that it took off and became as popular as it did?

SEGAN: I think it was a surprise to everyone. It started in the '40s, after World War II. And then it was really Michele's genius at realizing how important this product was. He took it from its Italian name, which was Supercrema Gianduja - kind of a mouthful - and he wanted to give it a more international, easier to understand name. And so he created Nutella as a name and launched it in 1964. So it just had its 50th anniversary.

MCEVERS: Wow. I mean, things obviously went pretty well for this company. I mean, Forbes says that Michele Ferrero was worth $23.4 billion. I mean, it's not just Nutella that he's responsible for, right? I mean, there's this other candy that seems really American but actually came from his company - the Tic Tac.

SEGAN: The Tic Tac was first introduced in 1969 here in the States. He also did so many other chocolate products. They made the, well, of course, wonderful non-chocolate Tic Tacs, but also Kinder Eggs that were filled with little assembleable toys inside. He also created the Mon Cheri, a chocolate covered cherry, and then, of course, the famous Ferrero Rocher. And then there's one of my personal favorites, Pocket Coffee, this little, tiny cube that has liquid espresso covered with dark chocolate.

MCEVERS: Oh my God. I've never even heard of that. That sounds amazing. So what's going to happen with this company now? I mean, who's going to run it? Is there any danger at all that we will not be able to get Nutella in the near future?

SEGAN: Zero danger. Michele was wise beyond his years and there's a huge, important, multinational company. They have a long, long history and great projects, and I think we're set for a good long time with lots of Nutella.

MCEVERS: Food historian Francine Segan, thank you so much for joining us.

SEGAN: Thank you.

MCEVERS: Francine Segan was talking about the Italian candy maker Michele Ferrero, the inventor of Nutella. Ferrero died on Valentine's Day at the age of 89. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.