Rome (AFP) – Billionaire Michele Ferrero, who became Italy’s richest man with a confectionary empire built on his popular Nutella spread, has died at the age of 89.
“I have learnt with emotion of the passing of Michele Ferrero, a true entrepeneur, known and loved in Italy and abroad,” Italian President Sergio Mattarella said in a statement.
“Ferrero was a leading light in Italian business for many years, always managing to stay on trend thanks to his innovative products and his tenacious and cautious work. Italy remembers him with gratitude.”
It was Ferrero’s father, a smalltime pastry maker named Pietro Ferrero, who laid the groundwork for the Nutella recipe and famously added hazelnut to save money on chocolate.
But it was Michele Ferrero who turned the paste into the Nutella now known the world over.
The first pot of the addictive mix was made in Alba in northwest Italy in April 1964.
Ferrero now produces around 365,000 tonnes of Nutella every year in 11 factories around the world. The biggest market is Germany, followed by France and Italy.
The Ferrero group also makes Ferrero Rocher, Mon Cheri and Kinder chocolates and employs more than 22,000 workers. The group has an annual turnover of more than 8 billion euros ($9 billion).
Ferrero and his family are estimated by Forbes to hold Italy’s biggest fortune at $23.4 billion.
Ferrero’s son Giovanni became chief executive of the Ferrero group after his older brother Pietro died of a suspected heart attack while cycling in South Africa in 2011.