Pietro Ferrero, heir to Italy's biggest fortune, the Ferrero group, maker of Nutella, Kinder and Tic Tacs, died Monday of a suspected heart attack in South Africa. He was 47.
Ferrero reportedly died after falling from his bike during a ride on a coastal road near Cape Town while on a break from a company meeting.
He was on a business trip with his father, Michele Ferrero, who turned the company into an international sweets producer and invented successes including Nutella and Kinder in the 1960s, according to the Daily Mail.
A passerby saw him fall off his bike, and he was declared dead of a suspected heart attack shortly after an ambulance arrived, a Western Cape Police spokesman said.
“Italy has lost a businessman who embodied the best qualities of our industrial history — the continual search for excellence, creativity, the determination to compete even in difficult moments to defend a brand and make it a symbol,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Bloomberg.
Ferrero's grandfather, also called Pietro, started the company in Alba in the Piedmont region of Italy in 1942, when it was difficult to obtain chocolates due to wartime shortages. He transformed a small coffee bar and pastry shop into a sweets factory.
With cocoa expensive as Italy rebuilt from war, the company experimented with locally abundant nuts as a substitute ingredient, according to the company's website.
Using a cocoa-hazelnut base, Ferrero developed Nutella, now the best-selling sweet spread in the world.
Chairman Michele Ferrero, Pietro’s father, took over the running of the business and increased the family’s fortune to $18 billion, earning him the 31st ranking on Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires for 2011, the top position for any Italian, according to Bloomberg.
The Ferrero family was the company's only shareholder.