How a Discount Breakfast Spread Pushed the French to Barbarism

Man in factory carries Nutella pots.
Turns out French people really like this stuff. Charly Triballeau/Getty Images

The French are rioting, but this time around there are no barricades or singing troupes of plucky young revolutionaries. No, this time the stakes are much higher. Intermarché, a supermarket chain operating across the country, launched a promotion on Thursday that reduced the price of more than a million two-pound jars of Nutella from 4.70 euros to 1.41 (about $1.75). The ensuing chaos was captured on videos posted across social media, showing customers mobbing around containers of the chocolate-hazelnut spread.

In the northern city of Ostricourt, police had to quell fights that broke out between customers.* In Southern France, shoppers advanced on a worker carrying the pots of Nutella in on a pallet. And in a town in the Loire Valley, a store employee said that he spied a customer sporting a black eye after all their Nutella sold out in 15 minutes. “They are like animals,” one customer told The Guardian. “One woman had her hair pulled. An elderly lady took a box on her head. Another had a bloody hand.” The maker of Nutella, Ferrero Brands, is actively distancing itself from the hectic scenes.* In a statement, the Italian brand said that while it regrets the consequences of the sale, the choice to slash prices was decided unilaterally by Intermarché.

The scenes that unfolded across France are nothing new to Americans, who every year around the holidays prove the lengths they’re willing to go for steeply discounted prices on laptops, televisions and gaming systems. Black Friday fight videos have come to be something of a tradition, like that one uncle that gets drunk every year two hours before Thanksgiving dinner. We roll our eyes, but if we’re honest, the holidays would be incomplete without a dose of unhinged consumerism to go with the copious amounts of carbs.

But despite the fact that the French consume somewhere around 100 million jars of Nutella each year, even Intermarché was “surprised” at the outcome of the 70 percent price cut. In footage of the wild scenes, you can hear people say repeatedly that “this is not normal.” And Sophie Chevalier, a French anthropologist and specialist in customer behavior, told Le Parisien that the hysteric reaction was out of the ordinary.*

So why exactly did the French go (hazel)nuts? Nutella does indeed possess a certain je ne sais quoi, but is it worth risking an eye for? According to Paris food writer Clotilde Dusoulier, the decidedly inelegant behavior exhibited in the Great Nutella Riots could be explained by nostalgia. “French people eat [Nutella] by the spoonful. I had it on toast for breakfast as a child,” Dusoulier told the Local, a French news site. “And like with candy, grownups continue to eat it to connect with their inner child.”

There you have it: Americans fight for things. The French riot for feelings.

Correction, Jan. 29, 2018: This post originally misspelled Ostricourt, Ferrero Brands, and Le Parisien.