Brown and thick with a vague sheen: Nutella doesn’t look like a superstar. Open up the jar — glass if you’re in Europe, plastic if you’re in America — and the impression is equally unassuming. There’s little smell besides a generically sweet aroma. Yet, to hear people rhapsodise about the creamy texture, the sublime taste and the endless way to eat it, you would be forgiven for being disappointed in the anti-climax. Whether it’s because of intrinsic characteristics or memories attached to the spread, Nutella has transcended its facade to become a worldwide fixation.
The Nutella jar’s ubiquity has made it invisible, allowing each customer to read onto it their own relationship with the spread. Take a good look at the label. When was the last time you noticed the glass of milk? The small green vine that frames the vignette (which itself could be breakfast or a snack)? Or the drops of water dotting the vine? Have you ever seen the yellow flower sitting next to two hazelnuts, one of which is cracked open one whole, lying in front of the milk? Do you know what type of bread the nutella is spread over? These symbols merge Ferrero’s reality of Nutella with the consumer’s memories.
Although the vines, the flower and the glass of milk may seem peripheral to Nutella, they are Nutella. They don’t just represent the spread’s ingredients, they symbolise Nutella’s spell over us. The glass of milk blends perfectly into the background leaving the faintest hint of an outline, wholesome and child-like. It evokes our first connection with our mother and the advice: ‘drink milk for strong bones.’ The eye then passes to the vine. This is vine that the hazelnuts grew upon. This is vine that the morning dew recently fell upon. This is vine that subtly reminds us of Nutella’s connection to Alba’s famed hazelnuts. Being from Alba you can be assured they are high quality and fresh. Just look: there was only time to crack open one before the artist came to capture Nutella’s wholesome idyll. Did he add the flower because it reminded him of the patterned tablecloth on the breakfast table of his youth? No, the flower is a canola flower and represents the oil that produces Nutella’s distinctive creaminess. Nutella exists in that forgettable corner: on the surface there’s the recipe, underneath there’s nostalgia.
Nutella is not what it’s made of but what it’s spread on. It’s always been that way. Nutella didn’t become popular because it combined chocolate, hazelnuts, milk and canola oil, but because it could be smeared thinly atop bread, allowing people an affordable daily indulgence. Look quickly and this could be a slice of loaf bread from a plastic bag and an American supermarket. Since the Nutella hasn’t been pushed to the edges, you can get ready to lick the choco-hazelnut smeared knife before cutting off the crusts or you can continue covering your bread. You’ve simply taken a break to kindly let the artists capture the beauty of your favorite meal.
This meal has been with you a long time and doesn’t require improvements. While the jar’s graphic may look outdated, its invisibility means that Ferrero doesn’t need to update it. Nutella is not meant to be something new. It’s a perennial comfort food that conjures up memories of childhood even if we discovered it at the grocery store yesterday. Breaking the seal on a fresh jar the aroma emitted isn’t of Nutella, but of a product that hasn’t changed because it transcends change.
This immutability has allowed Nutella to remain unscathed during the recent media phenomenon that ‘exposed’ its unhealthy nutritional profile. Eating Nutella doesn’t relate to consuming milk, hazelnuts and chocolate, but relates to perpetuating a way of being. In a modernizing and globalizing world, Nutella represents that the good things can remain just as they were 50 years ago in Alba, Italy.