'They are like animals': French shoppers brawl over cut-price Nutella

Hefty discount on chocolate hazelnut spread causes chaos at supermarkets across country

France has seen nothing like it: supermarket aisles of brawling customers throwing punches, pulling hair and shoving the elderly out of the way.

A decision by the Intermarché store chain to offer a hefty discount on jars of Nutella – France’s favourite chocolate spread – caused near riots in shops around the country.

Police were reportedly called as fights broke out among swarming customers grabbing 950g jars of Nutella reduced from €4.50 to €1.41, a 70% discount.

In one store, a member of staff was punched in the eye while trying to separate warring customers. In another, shoppers cleared shelves in 15 minutes.

“They are like animals. One woman had her hair pulled. An elderly lady took a box on her head. Another had a bloody hand,” one customer said.

Queues had formed outside many Intermarché supermarkets on Thursday, reminiscent of the first days of the sales, and customers were limited to three pots each.

In one Intermarché in the Moselle in eastern France, a member of staff reported: “People were piling in, they knocked everything over and broke stuff. It was an orgy … we were on the point of calling the police.”

In another store, staff said they had sold in one go the number of Nutella jars normally sold in three months. “They were fighting over it … at the tills there was only Nutella,” one told Le Progrès newspaper.

Until now, this type of hysterical behaviour has been viewed in France as a mostly American Black Friday phenomenon and evidence of the perils of rampant free-market consumerism.

Nutella was created by the Ferrero family in Italy in the 1940s. About 365m kg of the hazelnut chocolate spread are consumed around the world every year.

The company said it regretted the “promotion and its consequences”, blaming Intermarché for the chaos.

In a statement, the supermarket chain said it was surprised the offer had caused battle scenes in its stores and was sorry for the “disagreeable events customers suffered”.

Sophie Chevalier, a French anthropologist and specialist in customer behaviour, said the scenes were incredible.

“These are unusual in France, except when there’s a particularly exceptional sale, and more what we see in developing countries or where there’s a regular shortage of essential products,” Chevalier told Le Parisien.

“Would there be the same reaction to jars of pickles? Certainly not. It’s a question of the kind of product that explains this. Nutella is pure pleasure for children and to offer it at a bargain price obviously attracts lots of customers.”


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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