Ferrero hearts

Michele Ferrero, the richest man in Italy and owner of the Ferrero group that created Nutella and the Ferrero Rocher chocolates, died at 89 on Valentine's Day.

According to the Associated Press, Ferrero had been ill for several months and died in Montecarlo surrounded by family.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella praises Ferrero as being, "always ahead of his time thanks to innovative products and his tenacious work and reserved character."

Michele Ferrero 2
Michele Ferrero.

Forbes estimates Ferrero's net worth at $26.5 billion, calling him "the richest candyman on the planet."

According to Reuters, Ferrero never let outsiders buy into his family-owned company, which was first set up by his father in 1946. The group toyed with making a bid for rival Cadbury a few years ago and operates in 53 countries.

Ferrero's death opens up the question of succession and potential family tie-ups at the Ferrero group. In 2011, Ferrero's son Giovanni became chief executive after his older brother Pietro died of a heart attack while cycling in South Africa.

The Associated Press reports that a wake is scheduled in the company's Alba factory, and the funeral is scheduled for the cathedral in Alba. Ferrero is survived by his son and his wife, Maria Franca.

According to the BBC, Ferrero's father, Pietro, first developed the hazelnut spread that would go on to become Nutella in 1946 by combining rationed cocoa with hazelnuts to create an affordable chocolate. Ferrero went on to turn the paste into Nutella, now produced in 11 factories and sold in 160 countries.

Based on the gianduja confection, a triangular piece of chocolate and hazelnut, Pietro created the Giandujot paste. The first year, Pietro and his brother sold over 600 lb. of Giandujot. In nine months their sales grew to 10 tons.

By 1948, the company moved to a larger site. The next year, shortly before his death, Pietro launched the “supercrema” version of the paste, which was smoother and easier to spread.

When Ferrero took over for his father, he continued to tweak the recipe while using his entrepreneurial savvy to turn the company into an empire.

In 1956, after the company’s runaway success in Italy, Ferrero opened a plant in Germany, followed by another in France. So began the company’s expansion into the rest of Europe, with sales branches and production centers opening in Belgium, the Netherlands, Austraia, Switzerland, Sweden, the U.K., Ireland and Spain.

By 1964, Ferrero had perfected the formula to create Nutella as consumers know it today.

Subsequent confectionery inventions from the Ferrero group include Kinder Surprise, Ferrero Rocher, Mon Cheri, Tic Tac and Raffaelo.

Read More: Nutella — Ferrero’s springboard to success

Read More: Focused On Ferrero: CEO Nunzio Pulvirenti talks company's operations, goals and hazelnuts