In America, there is one candy that enjoys two often separate successes. It manages to carry a sense of sophistication, while at the same time being everpresent on drugstore and grocery shelves. We’re talking about Ferrero Rocher. You likely know – and love – the company’s trademark golden-wrapped chocolate hazelnut candy. But how did it reach this superstar status? Francis Lam talked with journalist Liana Aghajanian, who wrote an article for Thrillist called “How Ferrero Rocher Became a Status Symbol for Immigrant Families.” Liana says the global appetite for the candy was created in the hearts of many international and immigrant communities.
Francis Lam: I used to feel like I had this small but special secret from my youth as a Chinese American kid. And here you write the story about having the same special secret as an Armenian Iranian American. Do you remember the first time you had a Ferrero Rocher?
Liana Aghajanian: I don't remember the first time because it was such an omnipresent thing in my life; it just always seemed to be there. But I felt like it was a special secret as well when I was growing up. And for me, personally, because there are so many layers involved in the actual chocolate, I would eat it very slowly to make sure that it lasted really long and that I could taste each individual layer on its own.
Liana Aghajanian Photo: K. Shamlian
FL: I totally remember doing that! Like you said they were omnipresent. I don't remember when we first saw them. It was like sometime in the 1980s, so I was a little kid. And, all of a sudden, they were everywhere. Every time one of our cousins or aunties would come over they would bring a box. It was the classy gift to give and you would bring them to other people's homes. It was like a currency of this particular brand of chocolate. And again, I thought it was a Chinese thing because it was only Chinese families I knew who did this. Tell me about how it was a thing to give and receive in your family and your community.
LA: That's one of the things that really surprised me as I was writing this piece and the reaction afterwards. It’s this thing that is shared by so many immigrant communities and people around the world. I think everyone thought that it was their special secret until they found out, “Wait a minute, we were all doing this at the same time?”
A lot of these cultures, including my own, are heavy on hospitality. That's a big deal. It's a way that you show respect. You're very hospitable to family, friends, and strangers. So, if someone was coming over to your house, you would have that out. And if you were going to someone's house you would for sure have to take something, and what could be better than a glass-looking box with 48 pieces of little individual chocolate hazelnut balls in it? They’re all wrapped in gold, and you’d have to carefully open and eat. It was a currency. It was a way for you to show that you really cared about this person. You went out of your way to get them this thing that looked presentable and rich with quality.
Photo: urbanbuzz | iStock Editorial | Getty Images Plus
FL: When you wrote your story you researched why it was this particular brand of candy. Because it wasn't like just any ol' box of chocolates. It was always for Ferrero Rocher. In your story you had people who were Indian. I have to tell you that when I brought this story up to one of my colleagues, Erika, whose family is Colombian, she told us that she is setting the tables at her wedding with this candy. This is such a thing for so many different immigrant communities. Why is that?
LA: A large portion of it has to do with how Ferroro Rocher marketed themselves; they had a plan to be global. They had different distribution centers or arms of their company that were set up in different countries. And they did very clever marketing where they attached the candy to holidays. For example, Ferrero Rocher has a huge presence in India. And so, when it was Diwali, they make commercials saying things like, “Ferrero Rocher is precious just like your family.” And so, this chocolate started becoming associated with that relationship.
They also played up on the European element and the refinement of what rich, quality Italian chocolate could be. You see a lot of that featured in their commercials, where there's a chef in the kitchen who's taking their time with a pair of tweezers to make sure that every little bit of hazelnut is well placed and perfect on every chocolate they are making.
FL: Like a jeweler.
LA: It set this precedent where if you bought Ferrero Rocher you were buying something that had a special touch to it and you were buying it because this chocolate is precious just like your family. At some point they entered the American market and have now become a mainstream part of the offerings that you can buy in a drugstore.
I mentioned in my piece that it wasn't like they were the only ones. There's Godiva, which is also associated with a refined taste and upper socioeconomic status. If you buy someone Godiva, you obviously spent a lot of money. Godiva opened stores specifically in malls, but Ferrero Rocher was much more accessible to a wider range of communities, especially the immigrant communities, who would have access to them in the drugstore sooner than they would in a mall.
FL: It reinforces this idea that in America the streets are paved with gold and you can get Ferrero Rocher at a drugstore.
LA: That's exactly right.
FL: Still, what a great gift. I hope you get many boxes of them this holiday season.
LA: Thank you. I hope you do too. It's become a thing that I do now. I used to laugh at it and just think that it was something my parents did. But as we all know, we all turn into our parents. And now I take it when I go to someone's house.
FL: You just gotta lean in to it.
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Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table. He is the former Eat columnist for The New York Times Magazine and is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter. He graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America and has written for numerous publications. Lam lives with his family in New York City.