Showing posts with label Confectionery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Confectionery. Show all posts

30 October 2023

Luisa Spagnoli - businesswoman

Inventor of Baci chocolates who diversified into fashion

Luisa Spagnoli became the driving force of Perugina chocolates after Italy entered the First World War
Luisa Spagnoli became the driving force of Perugina
chocolates after Italy entered the First World War
The businesswoman Luisa Spagnoli, who is credited with creating the Perugina company’s famous Baci chocolates and later developed clothing lines using wool from angora rabbits, was born on this day in 1877 in Perugia.

Spagnoli was one of the four partners who launched the Perugina brand in 1907. She is said to have invented the confection that came to be known as Baci as a way to avoid wasting surplus chocolate and hazelnuts left over from the company’s other lines.

Perugina, now owned by Nestlé, grew to be Italy’s biggest chocolate manufacturer and Baci its best-selling product. The romantic messages inside the wrappers that remain a popular feature of the chocolates to this day are said to have been inspired by the clandestine romance between Spagnoli and the son of one of the other partners.

Her Angora Spagnoli business evolved into the Luisa Spagnoli fashion line that was developed by her son, Mario, and grandson, Lino, who took the business forward after Luisa had died in 1935, at the age of just 57.

Spagnoli was born Luisa Sargentini, the daughter of a fishmonger, Pasquale. After leaving school at 13 to work on the accountancy and commercial side of her father’s business, she was married at the age of 21 to Annibale Spagnoli.

She went into business with her husband when they took over the running of a grocery store in Perugia.  They produced their own sugared almonds to sell in the store, expanding into jams, confectionery and chocolate.

Today's Baci chocolates are still produced according to Luisa's 1922 recipe
Today's Baci chocolates are still produced
according to Luisa's 1922 recipe
In 1907, Annibale and Luisa joined up with pasta manufacturer Francesco Buitoni and another businessman, Leone Ascoli, in launching La Società Perugina.

The first product line was sugared almonds, but recognising the potential of chocolate they opened a factory at Fontivegge, near the city’s railway station, which produced cocoa powder and cocoa butter. 

Italy’s entry into World War One in 1915 brought profound changes. After the men were enlisted to do military service, Luisa found herself in charge of the business. As resources became limited, Luisa turned her focus to chocolate, blending caramelised sugar with cocoa to produce a 51% dark chocolate.  

Sugary sweets were defined by the Italian government as superfluous, luxury goods as they tried to avoid shortages and their production was prohibited, but Luisa priced her chocolate bars at a level that meant they were available to all and could not be classed as luxuries. For good measure, boxes of bars were sent to fortify Italian soldiers on the frontline.

In 1922, Annibale Spagnoli left the business, apparently because of internal friction within the company. Luisa remained, running the business jointly with Francesco Buitoni’s son, Giovanni.

Giovanni Buitoni, with whom Luisa had a clandestine romance
Giovanni Buitoni, with whom Luisa
had a clandestine romance
It was in the same year that Baci chocolates was born. Ever resourceful, Luisa was determined that the surplus chocolate and hazelnuts left at the end of each batch of bars produced would not be thrown away. She had the idea to use the excess to make small, individual chocolates, wrapping chocolate round a blob of chopped hazelnuts and gianduja - a concoction of chocolate and hazelnut paste - topped with a whole hazelnut.

She thought the sweet resembled a clenched fist and decided to call it a cazzotto - the Italian word for punch. Giovanni, however, thought it was an inappropriate name for something meant to give pleasure and suggested bacio, which is Italian for kiss.

Buitoni was 32 and Luisa 46 but despite the age gap - and the fact that Luisa was already married - a romance developed between the two, which was to continue clandestinely for the rest of her life. While they were working together in the factory, she would secretly wrap love notes around chocolates as she sent them to Giovanni to taste.

These became the inspiration for the way Baci were marketed - chocolate kisses with a romantic note attached as the perfect present for young lovers.

At a time when women in business were a rarity, Spagnoli proved herself not only to have a shrewd commercial brain but also to be one of the most forward-thinking bosses of her age. 

She had houses and a swimming pool built for Perugina’s workforce and organised leisure activities to aid their wellbeing. During the war, she provided a nursery so that female employees with young children could continue to work even when their husbands were away at the front.

The fashion stores opened by her son, Mario, carry his mother;s name
The fashion stores opened by her son,
Mario, carry his mother;s name

Her first moves into the fashion business came at around the same time as Baci were born as she began breeding long-haired angora rabbits, from which wool could be produced not by shearing their coats but simply by combing. She set up a production plant in the Perugia suburb of Santa Lucia, where the wool was used to make shawls, boleros and other fashionable garments. 

After a favourable reception when she showed off her products at the Milan Fair, she recruited a network of 8,000 breeders to supply the business. 

Sadly, Spagnoli did not live long enough to see her fashion enterprise reach its potential. Diagnosed with throat cancer, she moved at Giovanni’s insistence to Paris in order to receive the best care available but died there in 1935.

Two years after her death, Mario Spagnoli - one of three sons she had with Annibale - turned Angora Spagnoli from a small, artisan concern to industrial scale production, opening a new factory in Santa Lucia. Later, together with his son, Annibale - known as Lino - they opened a network of Luisa Spagnoli fashion stores, which still exist today.

In the 1940s, at a time when many Italians suffered from hunger and cold thanks to the deprivations of war, Mario maintained his mother’s spirit of generosity towards the workers who helped generate the company’s profits, making sure their efforts were rewarded with a Christmas gift of shirts, socks and wool to a value of 4,000 lire, a considerable sum at the time.

His mother is buried in the crypt adjacent to the Santa Lucia factory.  Her name lives on, though, in the packaging on Baci chocolates - still in the blue of the originals - with the subtitle 'Fondente Luisa', while the Perugina 51% dark chocolate bar is still marketed as the Perugina Luisa bar.

Piazza IV Novembre is the main square of the Umbrian capital, Perugia, where Spagnoli was born
Piazza IV Novembre is the main square of the
Umbrian capital, Perugia, where Spagnoli was born
Travel tip:

Perugia, the capital of the Umbria region, is an ancient city that sits on a high hilltop midway between Rome and Florence. In Etruscan times it was one of the most powerful cities of the period.  It is also a university town with a long history, the University of Perugia having been founded in 1308.  The presence of the University for Foreigners and a number of smaller colleges gives Perugia a student population of more than 40,000.  The centre of the city, Piazza IV Novembre, has a mediaeval fountain, the Fontana Maggiore, which was sculpted by Nicolo and Giovanni Pisano. The city’s imposing Basilica di San Domenico, built in the early 14th century also to designs by Giovanni Pisano, is the largest church in Umbria, with a distinctive 60m (197ft) bell tower and a 17th-century interior, designed by Carlo Maderno, lit by enormous stained-glass windows. The basilica contains the tomb of Pope Benedict XI, who died from poisoning in 1304.

Perugia's historic Pasticceria Sandri
Perugia's historic
Pasticceria Sandri
Travel tip:

Luisa Spagnoli’s main store in Perugia is in Corso Vannucci, right in the heart of the city, which connects Piazza IV Novembre with Piazza Italia. The street takes its name from Pietro Vannucci , a painter born in Città della Pieve and best known by his nickname Il Perugino. His frescoes decorate the Palazzo dei Priori, one of the most important buildings on Corso Vannucci along with the 15th century Palazzo dei Notari and the House of Baldo degli Ubaldi, the deconsecrated church of Sant'Isidoro and the Palazzo Donini.  The street is also home to the historic Pasticceria Sandri, which has been trading there since 1860.

Also on this day:

21 February 2018

Domenico Ghirardelli – chocolatier

Built famous US business with skills learned in Genoa

The chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, founder of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in San Francisco, was born on this day in 1817 in a village just outside Rapallo in Liguria.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop in Ghirardelli Square on San Francisco's northern waterfront
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop in Ghirardelli Square
on San Francisco's northern waterfront
Also known as Domingo, Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco in 1849 during the rapid expansion years of the Gold Rush, having spent the previous 10 years or so in Peru, where he had run a successful confectionery business.

After making money as a merchant, initially ferrying supplies to prospectors in the gold fields, he set up his first chocolate factory in 1852, drawing on the skills he acquired as an apprentice in Genoa.

By the end of the century, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was one of the city’s most successful businesses, with a prestige headquarters on North Point Street, a short distance from Fisherman’s Wharf, in a group of buildings that became known as Ghirardelli Square.

The son of a spice importer, Ghirardelli was born in the village of Santa Anna, just outside Rapallo, about 25km (16 miles) along the Ligurian coast from Genoa, in the direction of La Spezia to the southeast.

His father wanted him to have a trade and once he had reached his teens sent him to be an apprentice at Romanengo’s, an important confectioner in Genoa, with a view to setting himself up in business.

Domenico Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco from Peru in 1849
Domenico Ghirardelli arrived in San
Francisco from Peru in 1849
However, having been forced to give up its status as an independent republic and become part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as part of the settlement following the Napoleonic Wars, Genoa was a volatile city prone to riots and to brutal repression by the military and in 1837 Ghirardelli decided, in common with many Italians, to leave in search of a better life in the New World.

At the age of only 20 and newly married, he arrived first in Montevideo in Uruguay, moving on a year later to Lima in Peru, a prosperous city where there was already an established Italian community.

He set up a confectionery shop on Calle de los Mercaderes, the city’s main shopping street, which he modelled on Romanengo’s store in Genoa.  After the death of his wife, he married for a second time, to a Peruvian widow, and would have stayed in Lima had his former neighbour, an American from Pennsylvania who had moved to San Francisco, not written to him urging him to follow.

The neighbour, James Lick, who would go on to become the richest man in California, had set himself up on the proceeds of 600lb (272kg) of chocolate Ghirardelli had given him to sell. With San Francisco on the brink of an economic boom after the discovery of gold in 1848, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Trading first in general merchandise, Ghirardelli rapidly expanded from running a delivery service to owning grocery stores in San Francisco and Stockton, plus a soda fountain, a coffee house and a part-interest in a hotel.  Within two years, he had amassed wealth of $25,000, which then had the buying power of around $750,000 (€610,000) today.

The Ghirardelli factory was established just back from the San Francisco waterfront
The Ghirardelli factory was established just back from
the San Francisco waterfront
He opened his first chocolate factory in 1852 in the Verandah Building on Portsmouth Square, living above the premises, before moving to Jackson Street, building a separate family home in Oakland.  The business grew even more after the accidental discovery of cocoa powder, the result of some bags of chocolate paste being left unattended in a warm room.

The butterfat in the paste melted, dripping out on to the floor, leaving behind in the bags a greaseless residue that could be ground into a powder, which Ghirardelli patented and sold under the name of Broma, to be used as a cake ingredient or for making a hot cocoa drink.

The recession of the 1870s brought a massive scaling back, with many of the company’s assets, including the house in Oakland and several stores, being auctioned off to keep the factory going.

Yet, despite competition from others keen to exploit chocolate’s continuing popularity, the business recovered, with Ghirardelli’s sons increasingly involved.  Broma, rebranded as Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Powder, continued to be a big seller.  By the late 1880s, the company was producing and selling one million pounds (453,000kg) of the powder each year.

Ghirardelli retired in 1889, handing control to his sons.  In 1892, needing to expand, the company acquired a large woollen mill near the city’s northern waterfront at what his now Ghirardelli Square.

He died in 1894, contracting influenza during an extended visit to Rapallo, where he had gone in order to rediscover his roots. His body was returned to San Francisco, to be buried in the family mausoleum in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.

Production continued at Ghirardelli Square until the 1960s, when the business was sold and the manufacturing operation moved to San Leandro.  Today, while still trading under the family name as the third oldest chocolate manufacturer in the United States, the business is a subsidiary of the Swiss company, Lindt and Sprüngli. There is still a Ghirardelli shop in the Ghirardelli Square shopping and restaurant complex

A quaint 16th century castle guards Rapallo's harbour
A quaint 16th century castle guards Rapallo's harbour
Travel tip:

Rapallo, larger and a little cheaper than its exclusive neighbour Portofino, is an attractive seaside town of the eastern Italian Riviera, known as the Riviera di Levante. The town developed around a harbour guarded by a small castle – Il Castello sul Mare – built in 1551, which sits right on the water’s edge.  Behind the harbour is a network of narrow streets. There are boat service to Portofino, as well as Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli, while the main Genoa to Pisa railway line passes through the town.

The ornate interior of the Romanengo store in Genoa
The ornate interior of the Romanengo store in Genoa
Travel tip:

Romanengo’s confectionery store in Via Soziglia in Genoa has become a tourist attraction in itself, a wonderfully ornate emporium barely changed since it was refurbished lavishly in the mid-19th century, having opened for business for the first time in 1814.  Modelled on Parisian confectioners’ shops, it has a marble floor, a frescoed ceiling, elegant chandeliers and beautiful inlaid rosewood shelving and counters, with endless dishes of brightly coloured confectionery in glass cases. The company logo of a dove carrying an olive branch symbolised peace at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

More reading:

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella

Humble beginnings of chocolate giant Ferrero

The entrepreneur behind Perugina chocolates

Also on this day:

1513: Death of Pope Julius II

(Picture credits: Ghirardelli store by PictorialEvidence; San Francisco waterfront by Saopaulo1; Rapallo Castle by RegentsPark; all via Wikimedia Commons; Romanengo store from

2 September 2017

Pietro Ferrero - baker and chocolatier

Humble beginnings of €20 billion company

Pietro Ferrero was the founder of the Ferrero brand
Pietro Ferrero
Pietro Ferrero, the founder of the Ferrero chocolate and confectionery company, was born in Farigliano, a small town in Piedmont, on this day in 1898.

A baker by profession, he moved to nearby Alba in 1926 with his wife and young son, Michele, before deciding to try his luck in Turin, where in 1940 he opened a large pastry shop in Via Sant’Anselmo.

Trading conditions were tough, however, and the business was not a success.  The family returned to Alba in 1942, setting up a smaller bakery in Via Rattazzi, at the back of which Pietro created a kind of confectionery laboratory.

He had hit upon the idea of trying to find alternative materials from which to make products, largely because the high taxes on cocoa beans meant conventional chocolate-based pastries were expensive to make.

Hazelnuts, on the other hand, were plentiful, Piedmont being one of Italy’s major producers. One of his experiments involved combining Gianduja, a traditional Piedmontese hazelnut paste, with about 20 per cent chocolate. 

Pietro's original Giandujot hazelnut 'chocolate' bars
Pietro's original Giandujot
hazelnut 'chocolate' bars
Convinced his customers would like the taste, he began manufacturing bars of his chocolate-substitute on site at the bakery, selling it wrapped in foil under the name Pasta Gianduja and then Giandujot. It was popular as a sweet snack, often served in thin slices on bread.

Demand for the product increased rapidly, so much so that producing it by hand became impracticable. Together with his wife, Piera, Pietro founded the company Ferrero on May 14, 1946, built a factory in Alba on Via Vivaro and began to hire new workers.

Sadly, Pietro died in 1949 at the age of just 50, not realising his company would grow in quite the way it did.

Sales soared after a creamy, spreadable version of Gianduja was produced in 1951 under the name Supercrema. This was the forerunner of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread invented by Pietro’s son, Michele, who inherited the business and turned it into one of the world’s biggest brands.

Under Michele’s astute management, the company expanded to produce a whole range of confectionary products, including Ferrero Rocher praline chocolates, the Kinder range of eggs and bars, Mon Cheri cherry liqueur chocolates and the espresso-filled Pocket Coffee chocolates.

Ferrero SpA produces 365,000 tons of Nutella each year
Ferrero SpA produces 365,000
 tons of Nutella each year
Today Ferrero sells more than 365,000 tons of Nutella every year, has 11 factories around the world, employs more than 33,000 people and the company is valued at around €20 billion ($23.72 billion).  Incredibly, the company uses 25 per cent of the entire global hazelnut crop n producing Nutella.

When he died in 2015, Michele Ferrero was the richest man in Italy according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index and the 20th richest person in the world, with a personal fortune of almost €15 billion.

Although it has offices in Luxembourg, Ferrero SpA remains a private company based in Alba and still, essentially, a family business.  Pietro’s grandson, Giovanni – son of Michele – is the current executive chairman.

The appointment earlier this year as chief executive of Lapo Civiletti, the company’s former head of operations in central and eastern Europe, was the first time a non-family member had filled such a high-ranking position in the company.

Alba's San Lorenzo cathedral
Alba's San Lorenzo cathedral
Travel tip:

Apart from Ferrero, the town of Alba – about 32km (20 miles) northeast of Farigliano and 60km (37 miles) southeast of Turin – is important for its production of truffles, peaches and wine.  The wines produced locally include Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Moscato. The town has a population of almost 32,000 and its historic centre, built on the site of the Roman city of Alba Pompeia, includes the Romanesque cathedral of San Lorenzo and the Gothic church of San Domenico.

Via Roma is one of Turin's main shopping streets
Via Roma is one of Turin's main shopping streets
Travel tip:

Via Sant’Anselmo, where Pietro Ferrero ran a pastry shop before moving to Alba, is one of the streets parallel with Turin railway station, south of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. The city’s main shopping area is on the north side of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, around Via Roma, Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange and Via Carlo Alberto. Turin also has 19km (11 miles) of covered arcades and hosts more than 60 markets, including the largest open market in Europe at Porta Palazzo in Piazza della Repubblica.

More reading:

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella