Nutella wasn’t introduced as a spread. It was sold as a block of chocolate-hazelnut paste for slicing and placing on bread, like the thin sheets of chocolate Danes use as sandwich toppers. But kids would eat the chocolate and toss the bread, causing parents to eschew this “healthy” treat. To win over adults, Ferrero reformulated the product as a spread to ensure that kids had to eat nutritious, filling bread along with their chocolate. Parents were pleased, kids were happy and Nutella gained a reputation as a pseudo-healthy snack.
Despite myriad disagreements, Nutella has managed to retain this healthy aura. McDonald’s introduction of a Nutella-filled burger bun represents a new chapter in the product’s presentation. As part of Italy’s McCafe menu, McDonalds has introduced the ‘Sweety’, a Nutella-stuffed brioche designed to look like a Nutella sandwich. A dark line rings the bread, calling to mind a hamburger. The traditional burger box the Sweety is served in reinforces this association. Since meat and bread both offer nourishment, emphasizing these foods allows Nutella’s Sweety to masquerade as a nourishing breakfast.
But the idea of a hamburger-esque Nutella-stuffed bread is hardly compelling. So why are people obsessed? The answer lies in the symbols the product enables eaters to consume
The box gives clues as to the product’s appeal. Rather than feature an image of the food, it highlights the name ‘Sweety’ along with brands McCafe and Nutella. By consuming this product, the eater associates themselves with the two companies. Sweety appears on the top right of the box in a swirling font that looks like an old time candy sign interpreted through McDonald’s clean, modern lens. The word ‘with’ links the product name to Nutella in a font that visually mediates between the two. This conjunction suggests that the sweetness precedes the Nutella. It’s not Sweety filled with Nutella or Nutella Sweety, but the product name happens and then Nutella is added, making Nutella an added value to the experience of this product. McDonalds doesn’t appear on this face of the box. Instead, the name McCafe appears only on the front flap alongside a smooth image of the product. The overarching brand anchors the foodstuff, providing a place for Sweetness and Nutella to unite.
In this sense, Sweety woos contemporary eaters with the promise of consuming a product that is simultaneously transgressive and familiar. The Sweety looks like a McDonald’s burger, but acts like a Nutella-stuffed breakfast pastry and satisfies the desire to eat dessert while eating something of value. This is food, despite the fact its claims to nutrition have been largely debunked. Who cares if the Sweety is surprisingly small? Housed in its cardboard box, it recaptures the wonder of eating a McDonald’s hamburger and the joy felt at tucking into a Nutella sandwich—the joys of childhood adapted to the economy of signs.