Strike hits production at world’s biggest Nutella factory

A factory in northern France that makes 25% of the world’s Nutella has been blockaded for a week by workers demanding more pay, causing key ingredients to run low.

The Villers-Écalles factory of the privately owned Italian confectionery company Ferrero normally produces 600,000 jars a day of the cocoa and hazelnut spread, making it the biggest Nutella producer in the world.

Fabrice Canchel of the Force Ouvrière (FO) union said 160 employees had been on strike since 27 May. “No lorry has gone in or out of the site since then,” he said on Monday.

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Production of Kinder Bueno has been halted for almost a week, while only one of the four Nutella production lines is working, at 20% capacity. “The raw materials are starting to run short,” Canchel said.

The strikers have called for a 4.5% pay rise and a €900 (£800) bonus. Bosses have offered a 0.4% rise.

Ferrero, a family firm known for secrecy, said the strikers were a minority among the plant’s 400-member workforce.

“The priority of the management of the factory is to protect those staff who are not striking and who are the majority and want to continue to work in good conditions,” managers of Ferrero in France said in a statement. They accused the FO of rejecting attempts at negotiation.

In an internal message, managers said the blockade was illegal and they threatened to implement a judicial order to ensure access.

The official statement said the strikers had been notified they risked heavy fines starting on Monday if they failed to allow access. According to the internal memo, these could amount to €1,000 per hour and per person.

Canchel said: “This is an unacceptable violation of the right to strike.”

Nutella production has faced challenges in recent years, partly due to poor hazelnut crops in Turkey, the world’s biggest exporter of the nut.

Such is the popularity of the spread in France that fights broke out when a supermarket cut prices for the product in a promotion last year.

In 2015, a French minister caused uproar by telling people not to eat the spread as it contributed to deforestation and climate change. Nutella contains palm oil, which is produced in countries that are clearing forests for agricultural land.

Ferrero employs more than 30,000 people. Its sales have doubled over the past decade as it has made ambitious acquisitions. The company reported a turnover of €10.7bn in the previous financial year.

Founded as a family business in 1946, Ferrero is the third-largest company in the global chocolate confectionery market.

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