Just about a week ago, a Nutella-branded cafe opened in New York City, the second cafe of its type in the US. The lines snaking around the block all day long, with people enduring long waits to try their baked goods, coffees, and crepes—as if we didn't already know how popular the chocolatey hazelnut spread is. (It also goes to show that New Yorkers just really love standing in lines for things.)
But there’s a new challenger to Nutella’s primacy in global chocolate spread sales, where the brand currently enjoys a cushy 54 percent of the market. As Reuters first reported, Italian-based Barilla Group (yes, the people who make the pasta, lesser known as the people who also make a variety of cookies and crackers) plan to launch a rival product, Crema Pan di Stelle, as early as January 2019 in Italy.
How on Earth could they possibly compete with the chocolate spread behemoth? By making it better for the environment—or so they claim.
Nutella, owned by Italian food company Ferrero Rocher, has come under fire in recent years because of its use of palm oil as the ingredient that makes its chocolate spread so perfectly, well, spreadable. Palm oil is in a lot of things, from mass-produced foods to beauty products, and is also extremely popular as a cooking oil around the globe, but the palm oil industry causes rampant environmental devastation, earning the ire of watchdog groups like Greenpeace. The group recently produced a viral anti-palm oil commercial featuring a sad cartoon orangutan whose mother was killed by deforestation by the palm oil industry.
According to the Reuters report, Barilla’s new product Crema Pan di Stelle will be made up of less-contentious sunflower oil, as well as contain less sugar than Nutella, “Italian-only” hazelnuts, and sustainably farmed cocoa. It falls in line with much of the company’s recent branding, which relies heavily on transparency, sustainability, and health-conscious messaging. Barilla already makes a cookie called Pan di Stelle, or “bread of the stars,” and this spread will have bits of cookie crumble mixed throughout for a slightly crunchier texture than silky-smooth Nutella.
Nutella has defended its use of the controversial plant-based fat, going to great lengths on its site to make its palm oil supply chain transparent and demonstrate its sustainability and safety for consumers. While groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation condemn the palm oil industry for its wanton environmental destruction, they don’t advocate the boycotting of products containing it as the solution. In 2015, when the French ecology minister publicly condemned Nutella for its use of palm oil, Greenpeace actually came to the food company’s defense, saying that Nutella was doing a great job by basically leading the charge of corporations finding sustainable, fair-trade solutions to the deforestation palm oil problem.
It’s unclear yet whether consumers will really be swayed from their brand loyalty to Nutella by sustainable messaging to any significant degree, but it certainly can’t hurt to have more options in the spreadable chocolate category.