PARIS — In the French Revolution, the people fought over bread. In the France of Emmanuel Macron, they are fighting over Nutella.
As part of a promotion, Intermarché — a French supermarket chain — slashed the price of a 35-ounce jar of everyone’s favorite hazelnut cocoa spread by 70 percent. What transpired were scenes that would warm the heart of any die-hard “Black Friday” bargain-hunter.
In the words of one Intermarché employee, from the northeastern French town of Forbach, who spoke anonymously to 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.”
The dogged pursuit of a discounted confection now heavily based on sugar and palm oil was hardly limited to Forbach. All over the country, similar Nutella outbursts — some of which were even described as “riots” — erupted on Thursday. In some cases, the authorities even had to be called in to restore order.
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Video footage posted by customers on social media shows a hubbub of commotion around the coveted spread, a spectacle that likely seems perfectly common to any seasoned American shopper after Thanksgiving but that is nothing short of a scandal in France.
“This is not normal,” said one woman, captured in the background of one video posted on Twitter.
“We were trying to get between the customers, but they were pushing us,” said another employee at a location in central France, speaking to the local newspaper Le Progrès.
“They are like animals,” a customer said in the French press, describing the spectacle in one store. “A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand.”
The hazelnut spread — for many, an ambrosial accompaniment to toast, baguettes or even bananas — has existed since the 1940s, when Pietro Ferrero, a confectioner from the Piedmont region in the north of Italy, made a sweet spread out of a type of nut in local abundance. At the time, chocolate was still in short supply immediately after World War II, thanks to wartime rations on cocoa.
The rest, as they say, is history. The sweet spread has held a vaunted place in many a kitchen ever since the mid-1960s, when a revamped version — formally christened “Nutella” — hit shelves for the first time.
In any case, Nutella’s manufacturer was none too pleased about the brawls that erupted in France. In a statement on Twitter posted on Thursday, Ferrero blasted the supermarket chain.
[Opération promotionnelle #Intermarché #Nutella] Nous souhaitons préciser que cette promotion a été décidée de manière unilatérale par l’enseigne Intermarché.
Nous déplorons les conséquences de cette opération qui créent confusion et déception dans l’esprit des consommateurs.
— Ferrero en France (@FerreroFr) January 25, 2018