Real-Life Willy Wonka, Maker of Nutella, Dies

michele-ferrero400The maker of the world-famous Nutella spread and Kinder chocolates, and the richest man in Italy, Michele Ferrero, died this week on Saturday, at 89 years old. His death was announced in a statement released by The Ferrero Group, of which the deceased was a former chairman.

Michele Ferrero was born on April 26, 1925, in Dogliani, Italy. In 1950 he joined the business started by his parents, originally a small cafe and pastry shop in Piedmont, Italy, building it into a candy colossus. Under his watch, Ferrero introduced the Kinder brand of chocolates as well as Nutella in the 1960s, Tic Tacs in 1969, and, later, the Ferrero Rocher line.

The origin story of Nutella goes back to WWII. Since cocoa was so expensive during wartime, the Ferreros experimented with a cocoa-hazelnut mix, and gave birth to Nutella. The company remained a family affair, with Michele’s two sons running its holding company out of Luxembourg. Today, Ferrero is the fifth largest candy company in the world, among other household names like Mars and Nestle. Ferrero’s personal net worth, as ranked by Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, totaled just over $23 billion.

The Ferrero Group reported sales of more than $9.58 billion dollars in the fiscal year that ended August 31, 2014.