When most people think of Italian cuisine, they think fresh seafood and vegetables. Delicious cheeses and bread. And, of course, wine. But lately, Italy's food culture has been overshadowed by a battle between two of the country's largest processed-food giants over who an produce the best-tasting (and, of course, best selling) cookie.
The belligerents are Nutella-maker Ferrero Roche, and pasta giant Barilla. Barilla manufactures the cookie Pan di Stelle, a popular breakfast cookie. Recently, Ferrero launched a new cookie, the Nutella Biscuits. Since their launch, sales have soared, as more Italians choose to eat a light breakfast consisting of cookies, instead of a sit-down meal.
And so, what the New York Times describes as a "Christmas cookie battle" between two Italian cultural touchstones. The whole episode strikes right at the spirit of the Italian identity.
It's also saddling consumers with some difficult choices. As one marketing expert told the NYT, if war is what these companies want, then war is what they'll get.
And so the Christmas cookie battle between two cultural and culinary touchstones, Pan di Stelle and Nutella, and their superpower parent companies, the pasta giant Barilla and the chocolate giant Ferrero, strikes right at the Italian aorta.
"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..
he website Merendine Italiane, an authority on Italian snacks, reports that the first Italian snack was a miniature version of the Motta Panettone Christmas caThe conflict even took on a political dimension recently when Matteo Salvvke in the 1950s.
The conflict has even taken on a political dimension. Recently, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, swore off Nutella biscuits because he found out the hazelnuts used by Ferrero come from Turkey.
As NYT explains, Salvini has made a habit of bingeing on the Nutella cookies in public and on social media. Salvini even once shared a picture of a cake made from Pan di Stelle cookies and Nutella spread.
But even more recently, he posted a picture of himself in a supermarket torn between Pan di Stelle and Nutella Biscuits, an image that is probably becoming even more common in Italian supermarkets.
Another political dimension emerged earlier this year when the Italian government was reportedly weighing a new sugar tax that would have raised the cost of the cookies.
Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio had a meltdown over the prospect of the tax, and immediately carved out an exemption for the cookies. A sugar tax passed as part of Monday's budget, but it only impacts sodas.
The roots of the cookie war can be traced back to early 2018, when Barilla took a shot at Ferrero by launching a hazelnut spread similar to Nutella. A year later, Ferrero drastically expanded the rollout of its Nutella biscuits.
So far, sales for both new products have been strong, which suggests that we might see a flurry of new snacks being launched in Italy as the struggle continues.