Riots erupted in French supermarkets on Thursday when Intermarché reduced the price of Nutella by 70 percent. Scuffles broke out at stores all over France and quickly deteriorated into brawls as customers vied to snap up 35-ounce jars of Nutella, which were reduced from $5.60 to $1.75 as part of a promotion.
Police were called in to restore order at Intermarché stores including the Ostricourt store in northern France were desperate Nutella fans became violent in their attempts to snap up the discounted spread. Similar scenes reportedly occurred at Intermarché’s Roubaix, Wingles and Marles-les-Mines branches.
A shopper at the Rive-de-Gier supermarket told Le Progrès, “They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, and another had a bloody hand. It was horrible.”
Seven hundred jars of Nutella were snapped up in 45 minutes on Thursday morning at Intermarché’s Montbrison store. Jean-Marie Daragon, an employee at the store told Le Progrès that customers had devised devious ways to get their hands on the discounted jars. He said,”Some customers came the night before the promotions to stash the Nutella pots in other places, and thus prevent others from taking them.”
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Daragon claimed he had tried to solve the problem by limiting customers’ purchases to three pots of Nutella but said that consumers hastily returned to pick up more. The supermarket had planned to repeat the discount on Friday and Saturday.
Intermarché staff at a number of branches were caught up in the Nutella frenzy. At Intermarché in Saint-Cyprien, southern France people allegedly threw themselves on an employee carrying a pallet of the Nutella. An employee at a store in central France told Le Progrès. “We were trying to get between the customers, but they were pushing us.”
A worker from Intermarché’s Forbach store anonymously told Agence France-Presse, “People just rushed in, shoving everyone, breaking things. It was like an orgy. We were on the verge of calling the police.” At the Metz branch in northeast France, “It was a real disaster, 200 people were outside waiting for the supermarket’s opening.” an employee told CNN.
The manager of Intermarché’s Rive-de-Gier store denied any violence had taken place and told The Local that the reports were “completely false”. He added, “There were lots of people, lots of noise, but the reports of violence were surprising to me – they’re not true.” He claimed the promotion had been a success.
Intermarché issued an apology to its customers and claimed it had been “surprised” by the demand.
Ferrero, the parent company of Nutella said it was not involved in the promotion and blasted the supermarket chain in a Twitter statement saying, “We wish to specify that this promotion was decided unilaterally by the brand Intermarché.” Ferrero added, “We deplore the consequences of this operation, which create confusion and disappointment in the minds of customers.”
In 2017, Ferrero became the center of a controversy when they were the first major European food company to defend the palm oil industry amid reports that refined palm oil in foods could cause cancer. Ferrero ran television commercials and newspaper advertisements to reassure consumers that it was safe to eat Nutella. Other Italian food companies began removing palm oil from their products.
Nutella produces 365,000 tonnes of the spread annually. France is its second largest market after Germany. Around 100 million jars of the hazelnut and cocoa spread are consumed in France each year.
Nutella was launched by Pietro Ferrero in Northern Italy in the 1940’s. At the time, chocolate was expensive and in short supply while hazelnuts were abundant.
February 5th has been recognized as World Nutella Day since 2007.