Pietro’s great idea in the scarce postwar years was to create a chocolate-like sweet using cheaper hazelnuts, which were abundant in the countryside around Alba, instead of expensive cocoa. A kilo of so-called “Pasta Gianduja” cost the equivalent of 30 cents in today’s money compared with €1.50 for a kilo of chocolate.

By 1950, he had 200 trucks delivering Gianduja to all of Italy; a few years later the number had quintupled, making it the biggest fleet outside the Italian army.

Michele started in the family business when he was 20 and was leading it by 32. People who know him say he added to his father’s idea of undercutting the fine chocolates market with products that boasted “more milk, less chocolate”. It was a neat marketing trick that kept costs down but also played to an emerging health-consciousness amongst consumers.

Mr Ferrero also brought an innate understanding of how to sell internationally. The company launched in Germany in 1956 with Mon Cheri, cherry liqueur chocolates. Ferrero now employs 21,600 people in 18 factories in Europe, Australia, Latin America and the US. It is the market leader in most of western Europe outside the UK.

But Mr Ferrero’s greatest skill has been knowing what children want. “Never patronise a child,” he is quoted as saying in the 2004 book Nutella, an Italian legend, by Gigi Padovani.

via FT.com / Comment / Analysis – Man in the News: Michele Ferrero.