During World War II, as chocolate prices skyrocketed across Europe, Piedmontese chocolatier Michele Ferrero decided to cut costs by mixing ground hazelnuts with what little chocolate was available to him.
From these modest beginnings emerged the massive chocolate empire known as the Ferrero Group, the conglomerate behind iconic sweets such as Kinder Surprise, Tic Tacs, Ferrero Rocher, and, of course, Nutella.
Nutella, the thick, dark spread and crown jewel of the Ferrero empire, has legions of fans around the world, whose borderline addiction fuels sales to the tune of $2.46 billion annually for the spread alone—that's from 198,416 tons of the stuff produced each year, according to Bloomberg Business.
Nutella makes up only about one-fifth of Ferrero's sales, which puts the company's total annual revenue at just under $10 billion. Needless to say, this kind of demand has created an impressive fortune for a family of modest origins.
And when Michele Ferrero passed away last year on Valentine's Day at the age of 89, it made his 98-year-old widow Maria Franca the world's fourth-richest woman, and the single richest person in Italy, according to Forbes.
Maria Franca Ferrero is now considered the 30th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $22.1 billion—miles ahead of media tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's paltry $7.7 billion. That's one hell of a piggy bank for a simple spread made of nuts and cocoa.