Italy chocolate tycoon Pietro Ferrero dies in S Africa

image captionPietro Ferrero ran the firm with his brother, Giovanni

Italian chocolate tycoon Pietro Ferrero has died in an accident in South Africa, a company spokesman has said.

Mr Ferrero, 48, was on a business trip and died after falling off his bicycle, probably because of an ailment, the company said.

He was joint chief executive - along with his brother - of the Ferrero group, which owns Nutella and Kinder.

His father Michele, Italy's richest man, turned the company into a global giant of the confectionery industry.

Wartime shortages

Mr Ferrero's grandfather, also Pietro, started the company in 1942 in the northern Italian town of Alba, where the firm is still based.

Because of wartime shortages, chocolate was difficult to obtain. The elder Pietro Ferrero hit upon a recipe which combined cocoa with locally abundant hazelnuts.

That concoction - Nutella spread - became an international success.

In 2009, the company expressed interest in a bid for the UK confectionery group, Cadbury. However, it abandoned the plan and Cadbury was instead taken over by US-based Kraft Foods.

"Italy has lost a businessman who represented the best qualities of our economic history," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in a statement.

Mr Ferrero was also chairman of Ferrero SpA, the Italian branch of the company.

The Ferrero company had an annual turnover of 6.6 billion euros ($9.4 billion) in its 2009-2010 financial year, the AFP news agency reports.

The business is still family-owned.

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