In the words of one Intermarché employee, from the northeastern French town of Forbach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity 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 some kind of vegetable 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.
Video footage posted by customers on social media shows a commotion around the coveted spread, the sort of spectacle that probably 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 1950s, 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.
“We wish to specify that this promotion was decided unilaterally by the brand Intermarché,” the statement read. “We deplore the consequences of this operation, which create confusion and disappointment in the minds of customers.”