It’s Nuts: Nutella USA is Spreading the Worst Messages or How Many Chocolate Stereotypes Can You Fit Into a 30 Second Commercial?

Nutella USA’s 30 second television commercial “Whole Lot of Happy“, released nationally on February 10th, 2014, is, on a single viewing, an upbeat and cheerful ad. Upon closer examination, however, there are at least 7* troubling historical stereotypes of chocolate advertising shown in a very short time.  The historical advertising stereotype addressed here is that chocolate is a healthy and nutritious food for children anytime of day, and that this stereotype is a deception perpetuated by the chocolate industry.

In viewing the video linked above, one wonders if advertisers plan the underlying messages consciously or if they themselves cannot see problematic patterns resurfacing from chocolate’s past.  This question is especially relevant for Nutella USA, a Ferrero subsidiary, which lost a class action lawsuit presented by a mother in California in 2011. She sued the company because Nutella USA’s print and TV advertising from the period in question heavily implied to consumers that Nutella was part of a balanced and healthy breakfast. Some of the points listed under the Class Action Settlement’s Nature of the Action are:

“This is a putative class action on behalf of a nationwide class seeking redress for Defendant’s deceptive practices in its marketing and advertising of Nutella during the Class Period. Nutella is deceptively marketed, advertised, and sold to Plaintiff and the other Class members as a “healthy” and “nutritious” food. The central message of Defendant’s marketing and advertising is that Nutella is a “wholesome” food product and can be served as part of a “balanced” and “nutritious breakfast.” In Nutella’s marketing and advertising, Defendant omits that the nutritional value claimed, if any, is not derived from Nutella, but is instead derived from other foods or drinks (e.g., whole grain breads, fruit and milk) which are advertised to be consumed along with Nutella.”  (Nutella Consumer Class Action Settlements Website, California Court Documents, Class Action Settlement, page 2, #6, 8-10).

But how was this particular model of advertising chocolate’s benefits part of a historical pattern?

Chocolate lauded as a nutritional food, as a replacement of a meal or as an energy producing item to eat, has been around for over a hundred years. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate standard size bars were produced starting in 1900, with a white label that prominently displayed the phrase “A Nutritious Confection” (Hershey Community Archives), and the bar wrappers from 1903-1911 added to that slogan the phrase “More Sustaining than Meat” as part of their eye appeal advertising strategy. As time passed, both phrases were removed and the  wrappers extolled that Hershey’s was “A Nourishing Food” from 1912-1935. Here is where, in the US, chocolate is no longer equated as a confection in the customer’s mind, it has become an everyday food.

Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar wrapper. From the Hershey Community Archives
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate wrapper 1903-1906. The Hershey Community Archives
Hershey Bar Wrapper 1900-1903
Hershey Milk Chocolate wrapper 1900-1903. The Hershey Community Archives

During the same era, circa 1900, Cadbury’s Chocolate was producing poster and print ads lauding the nutritional value of their cocoa. Colorful hand-drawn posters depicting firemen taking a quick break while fighting a fire to recharge with cocoa combined with the slogan “Makes Strong Men Stronger The Most Refreshing Nutritious and Sustaining of all Cocoas.” (Cadbury Co. UK) drew the consumer’s eye.

Cadbury's Cocoa poster and print ad circa 1900
Cadbury’s Cocoa poster and print ad circa 1900. Cadbury Co UK.

As the chocolate industry grew, advertising began to be focused on women and the home as a way to increase the customer base (Carla Martin 3-30-15) . Chocolate was still heralded as nutritious and good for you, and your family.  By convincing adults through advertising that chocolate is beneficial and nutritious, the industry set up a pattern of  consumer assumption, that what is healthy and good for an adult would be nutritious for children without question.  Or had they?  As noted above, Nutella USA’s parent corporation, Ferrero, has paid a 3 million dollar settlement as part of the California settlement of 2011, but their commercials still imply that Nutella belongs at the breakfast table. But the commercial from 2014 has the same flavor of advertising. The waffles are present, but no orange juice or other breakfast items to state “this is breakfast”. There’s toast, but the time of day is unclear.

My response to the commercial was to find a type of spread that parents would think twice about feeding their children at breakfast, as a snack, on fruit or just as an everyday food but was less caloric and fat heavy.  Pamela’s Gluten Free Organic Dark Chocolate Frosting does not contain nuts or palm oil, is Organic and Gluten Free, two of Nutella USA’s claims. When prepared according to package directions with organic butter and water, and with the serving size adjusted for an equal sized 2 tbsp. serving size, the frosting has 23% fewer calories, 42% less total fat, and 2% less sugar than Nutella Hazelnut spread. The only increase in values over Nutella is a 7% increase in saturated fat, an actual increase from 4g to 4.3g. Why not use the frosting instead of Nutella, as the addition of either item spread on a waffle is the equivalent of cake for breakfast?


Multimedia Sources

Msmagazine. “Nutella TV Commercial, ‘Whole Lot of Happy’.” YouTube. YouTube, February 14, 2014. Web. April 10, 2015.

Nutella and Nutrition: Food Pyramid and Guidelines. “Nutella and Nutrition: Food Pyramid and Guidelines.” Web. April 10. 2015

Pamelas Products GlutenFree. “Dark Chocolate Frosting Mix.” Web. April 10, 2015.  

Hershey Community Archives. “Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Bar Wrappers over the years.” Web. April 10, 2015.

Cadbury Co. UK. “The Story.” Web. April 10, 2015

Works Cited

“Nutella USA California Class Action Settlement” Nutella Consumer Class Action Settlements. Web. April 10, 2015

Martin, Carla D. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. March 30, 2015. Class Lecture.


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