In the Wake of the Nutella Riots, Can the World Survive World Nutella Day?

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There are many known ways to unsettle the French—for instance, by saying "Où est le McDonald's le plus proche?" with less-than-perfect pronunciation, or by inviting Donald Trump to visit.

And now we know another way: Offer them a certain chocolate-hazelnut spread at a 70-percent discount.

Kenny Le Bon's video, and others like it, have been lighting up social media over the past couple of days along with headlines that reference the "Nutella Riots." Per USA Today,

Fights—and even riots—were reported in multiple parts of France after the Intermarché chain began a promotion for the chocolate and hazelnut spread Thursday. More than a million 950-gram pots were slashed in price by 70% from $5.85 to $1.75. Police had to intervene in a brawl in the northern town of Ostricourt, Le Parisien newspaper reported. An employee at one store in Forbach, near the border with Germany, likened the scenes to an orgy, telling Le Monde newspaper that shoppers had broken items in their rush for the treat.

The French, if you haven't already guessed, love their Nutella. The country consumes fully a quarter of the world's Nutella supply, and as the BBC reported in 2015, a French couple tried to name their baby, yes, Nutella. (France being France, though, the authorities have veto power over "unsuitable" baby names, and a judge refused to approve the appellation, saying that "It is against the child's interest to be saddled with a name that could only lead to mockery and unkind remarks.")

For Americans, the story of the Nutella Riots is, of course, irresistible. We are used to being the ones displaying operatic shopping-related greed, though it usually comes in late November and tends to involve Walmart parking lots.

So in a way it's a bit disappointing that the Nutella Riots weren't, you know, a bit worse. There could have been reports of shoppers bludgeoning each other with freshly-baked baguettes. French President Emmanuel Macron could have called in la Garde Nationale and instituted Nutella rationing. French First Lady Brigitte Macron could have exclaimed "Laissez-les manger de la confiture!" (Let them eat jam!)

All indications, though, are that there was, and is, no actual shortage of Nutella in France—and a million jars getting put on sale, per USA Today's report, is a lot of Nutella.

So what gives? The French themselves are trying to figure that out. As a post titled "What the 'great Nutella riots' of 2018 tell us about the French" on the English-language French website The Local explains,

France's long love affair with the chocolate spread starts, for many, at childhood when it is the sweet and some say sickly breakfast of choice for many French school children. And according to Paris food writer Clotilde Dusoulier it could be this childhood link which is partly behind the France's love for Nutella. "French people eat it by the spoonful. I had it on toast for breakfast as a child. ... And like with candy, grownups continue to eat it to connect with their inner child." The food writer also explained that the French have a tendency to turn to sweets in times of uncertainty.

Ah, yes, times of uncertainity—and the specter of childhood. The parenting website Fatherly's coverage—"Watch French Parents Riot at a Nutella Sale"—suggests that the seemingly greedy French shoppers were actually trying to stock up for their Nutella-loving children. And BuzzFeed calls attention to sympathetic tweets from French observers of the ruckus, including one that reads "Moi j'y vois des parents sans le sou qui ont sauté sur 3€ de réduction pour faire plaisir aux gamins"—"Me, I see penniless parents who jumped on a €3 discount to please the kids."

Parents in America—home of one of the Ur-shopper-uprisings, the Tickle Me Elmo Riots of 1996, not to mention countless toy-related Black Friday altercations since then—can surely relate.

For its part, Ferrero, the Italy-based maker of Nutella, has been trying to distance itself from the events in France, issuing a statement on Twitter that reads, "We wish to specify that this promotion was decided unilaterally by Intermarché. We deplore the consequences of this operation that creates confusion and disappointment in the minds of consumers."

Given that sharply-worded tweet, it would be churlish to float conspiracy theories, right? Still, it's hard not to point out that having Nutella in the headlines to this degree in the lead-up to World Nutella Day on Feb. 5 seems awfully, well, convenient. (Back in 2013, Ad Age's E.J. Schultz reported that Ferrero briefly tried to block the annual event, created by San Fancisco-area Nutella fan Sara Rosso, over what it called a "routine brand-defense procedure," but then backed off. And then in 2015 Rosso handed World Nutella Day over to Ferrero.)

At any rate, now that we know the disruptive power of discounted Nutella, we have to hope and pray that nobody (we're looking at you, Vladimir Putin) decides to weaponize that knowledge.

Picture an army of Russian Twitter bots disseminating fake news about, say, a 90-percent-off sale on Nutella—on World Nutella Day.

Oh mon Dieu!

Of course, in the resulting post-apocalyptic hellscape—in which jars of Nutella would replace the Euro in the French black-market economy—this week's Intermarché rioters would have the last laugh, mais non?

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