“When it comes down to Barilla and Ferrero, there can be a war,” said Michele Boroni, a marketing expert in Milan. “It’s a competition between Italy’s last food giants that have remained Italian.”
The civil war, with competing philosophies on health, deforestation, liberty and cream filling, has roots in the postwar boom.
The website Merendine Italiane, an authority on Italian snacks, reports that the first Italian snack was a miniature version of the Motta Panettone Christmas cake in the 1950s.
In 1964, the Italian and global junk food landscape was transformed by Michele Ferrero, who created Nutella. By 1984, the cocoa-hazelnut spread had permeated Italian culture, even appearing in the 1984 film “Bianca,” in which Nanni Moretti, the darling director of the Italian left, eats in the nude out of a shoulder-height vat of Nutella. An ode to Nutella, written mostly in pig Latin (“Nutella Nutellae”), has sold 1.5 million copies since it was published in 1993.
Yet the breakfast cookie market was cornered by Barilla and its white-bread, family values-promoting subsidiary, Mulino Bianco, whose very name has become synonymous in Italy with storybook perfection.
In 1983, it introduced Pan di Stelle as chocolate breakfast biscuits. It also acquired fanatics. Silvia Proserpio, a 41-year-old graphic designer in Milan, eats them every day for breakfast, and sometimes after lunch.
“It’s all about the stars,” she said. “The stars make you think of something beautiful, outer space, or a dream.” She also didn’t mind the sugar rush.