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Italy mourns its beloved ambassador of chocolate

The shocking death in a cycling accident of Pietro Ferrero, the billionaire heir to the Ferrero Rocher confectionary empire has left a nation stunned.

The rolling hills of Piedmont's Langhe are, even by Italy's stratospheric standards, exceptional for the cuisine they produce. It is not for its black truffles, Barolo wines or famous risottos, however, that most of Italy knows this little area hemmed in between the Alps and Liguria, but rather an ubiquitous chocolate paste that millions spread on their toast every morning.

Its importance is such that if Italians could take just one food with them to a desert island, many would probably choose not pizza but a jar of Nutella.

This chocolate-hazelnut sludge was a hit from the moment the Ferrero family first produced it in 1946, soon hooking millions and creating a multibillion-pound confectionery empire that brought the world Tic Tacs and Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

But to understand why Italy is quite so shaken by Monday's sudden death of Pietro Ferrero, the soft-spoken heir to the €12.5bn Ferrero fortune, you need to look not just at his chocolate spread, but also at what the young magnate represented.


Mr Ferrero was just 47 years old, a fit, successful, widely liked and respected family man with three young children.

He stood to be even richer than the mogul leading Italy, but unlike Silvio Berlusconi, was not creating rancour. He was a sort of an anti-Berlusconi who led by example -- and died young and on his beloved bicycle, Italy's leisure tool of choice.

He fell ill at 4pm on Monday afternoon while riding on a coastal road near Cape Town, during a break from a company meeting in South Africa. A passer-by saw him fall off and he was declared dead of a suspected heart attack shortly after the ambulance arrived, according to police.

Just a few hours earlier, Mr Ferrero had been chatting on the phone to his friend Ivan Gotti, the Italian cycling champion.

Mr Ferrero was in South Africa with his 85-year-old father, Michele, who is still the company's chairman, and about 30 senior managers to decide where to build Ferrero's 19th international plant.

Yesterday there were no comments from Mr Ferrero's family, including his wife, Luisa Strumia, who left their three children -- Michael (4) Marie Eder (3) and John (1) -- behind in Alba as she flew to South Africa.