Nutella riots in French supermarkets (analysis)

A decision by the Intermarché store chain to offer a 70% discount on jars of Nutella – France’s favorite chocolate spread – caused near riots in supermarkets 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.

In response to the uproar, Lionel Jeanjeau, a regular contributer to the online newspaper, Mediapart, wrote this analysis below. Jeanjeau saw the situation from a different angle. Mediapart is a French online investigative and opinion journal created by Edwy Plenel, a former editor in chief of Le Monde.

(I’ve translated it into English)

The episode of quasi-riots that broke out in several stores during a promotion on Nutella pots is revealing in more ways than one. For one, it reveals the excess of social media and the extreme speed of the propagation of information on this particularly cruel day, for the biggest pleasure of mockers and cynics.

What’s in a pot of Nutella? All defenders of good taste (gastronomic), the environment and our model of society undoubtedly know the experiment which consists of leaving a pot of Nutella in the sun to watch, by separation of the ingredients, the composition which is indigestible and unpalatable.

Now, we discover today, stunned, that there is not only oil and sugar in a pot of Nutella. There are other ingredients, even more indigestible. As certainly as the warming of the Nutella pot will highlight the amounts of oil and sugar, exposing that same pot to the practices of our consumer society and the developers of social networks will reveal many other ingredients, well hidden behind the thickness of the spread. This is the experiment that was tried today in Intermarché stores which suddenly announced a giant promotion: 70% discount on pots of Nutella. The reaction of the customers was immediate, brutal, primal: they rushed to the stocks available on the shelves (and in boxes on the floor), and in the process were pushed aside, sworn at, swiped at and filmed (what is not filmed today?) by an equally large swarm of mobile phones that provide us with these funny movies featuring poor people in, frankly, degrading or even humiliating situations. The contagion of social networks did the rest.

In pots of Nutella, we know now, there is sugar, oil, but also humiliation, cynicism and a good dose of class contempt. Look at these poor people who get torn to pieces for a pot of Nutella! The jerks! Do they not know that Nutella is bad for the health, full of fat and that it destroys the ecosystems of orangutans? Of course they know. It was explained to them on TV, in the newspapers, at school, or during the annual outing to the zoo. Only here, in this situation, Nutella is good. And when it’s not expensive, why deprive oneself of being able to go home at night with a small (or big) surprise for the children? Because it’s hard to resist when you know that you’ll make the kids happy, or yourself happy, tonight or tomorrow, with a slice of bread topped with (cheap) Nutella.

The attitude of peoples’ comments on the social networks is ridiculous. I have read on Twitter and Facebook a lot of very contemptuous comments about the people we see on these videos. Who are we (hidden behind our screens in comfortable anonymity) to judge these people and make fun of them? There is on these films a concentrate of this France that some, by political calculations, call ‘France from below’, rank and file commoners. There are people who are what we have been, for many of us, or what our parents, our grandparents, our childhood friends have been. And personally, these comments make me feel uncomfortable. Some hurt me.

Do not judge. Let’s try to understand. How do we come to such situations? How do we come to fight in a shop to pay less for a jar of spread? Do we do this for pleasure? And also, why do we collectively laugh at the most fragile brought to us by these images? How do we not see that hidden behind these images is the cynicism of Ferrero (the founder of Nutella), who offers himself free publicity for his flagship product? How can we not see the indifference and cynicism of the big-box managers who will find, tomorrow, the means to denounce the deterioration that harmed the image of their establishments, after having succeeded, in only a few seconds, an extraordinary promotional operation?

This, in my opinion, is the real challenge: to understand how we accept and endorse that those who are small will mock those who have even less, under the amused and interested gaze of those who profit from this lamentable episode? No doubt I will be accused of living in the land of Noddy. It does not matter, I assume my stance. I do, in any case, want to live in a world where to poke fun at the effects of poverty and downgrading is something inacceptable.

Here’s the original link in French: