There’s something poetic about the fact that Michele Ferrero died on Valentines Day, when many people are buying each other chocolate. The 89-year-old confection magnate behind Nutella, Tic Tacs, Ferrero Rocher, and other popular sweets occasionally drew comparisons to Willy Wonka. But on closer investigation, there are actually a number of similarities between the fictional and real life candyman.
They made chocolate available to all
Willy Wonka’s golden tickets found their way into the hands of dirt-poor Charlie as well as a Paraguayan millionnaire. Ferrero’s father Pietro created an early version of Nutella in 1944 as a response to wartime chocolate rationing. By mixing cocoa with hazelnuts which were more widely available, chocolate was more easily available to families that couldn’t afford it. (Photo: nutellausa.com)
They innovated with their candy
Willy Wonka’s factory creates never-ending gobstoppers and ice cream that doesn’t melt. Kinder Surpise is less fantastical but a toy wrapped in candy is still imaginative and completely delightful for kids. Ferrero also showed ingenuity by improving his father’s product, he turned a sliceable loaf into the creamy spread we’re familiar with today.
They dominated the competition
Wonka is so successful that his competitors try to spy on him. Ferrero took his father’s pastry shop and grew it into a multinational empire. The Ferrero company now operates in 53 countries, and its 2014 sales totaled about $10 billion, according to the New York Times.
They thought about their legacy
Willy Wonka’s golden tickets are part of an elaborate plan to find a suitable heir to take over his factory. Ferrero guarded his family business fiercely, remaining actively involved well into his 80s and handing the reins over to his sons. Reuters reports that throughout his tenure, he never let outsiders buy into the company.
They were secretive and eccentric
Willy Wonka is a renowned recluse with an pretty unusual wardrobe. According to the Times, Ferrero was notoriously private, often wore dark glasses in public, and almost never gave interviews. He also reportedly made an annual visit to the shrine of the Madonna of Lourdes—presumably to pray for a decent hazelnut harvest, says the Telegraph—and put a statue of the Madonna in every Ferrero facility around the world. (Photo: Wikimedia)