Unidentified associates of Pietro Ferrero next to his body on Victoria Road. Picture: Michael Walker
Unidentified associates of Pietro Ferrero next to his body on Victoria Road. Picture: Michael Walker
Italian chocolate tycoon Pietro Ferrero.
Italian chocolate tycoon Pietro Ferrero.

Italian chocolate tycoon Pietro Ferrero has died in Cape Town after an apparent heart attack while cycling. He was 47.

It is understood Ferrero, who was married with three children, was in South Africa on a business trip.

According to police spokesman FC van Wyk, Ferrero was cycling along Victoria Road near Llandudno at 2.57pm when he fell off his bicycle.

“A passer-by stopped to assist him and performed CPR. When ambulance services arrived they declared him dead. It is suspected he died of a heart attack.”

Witnesses said paramedics tried in vain to save Ferrero’s life and motorists parked their vehicles across busy Victoria Road to shield Ferrero and emergency workers from oncoming traffic.

One described the scene as “quite bizarre” as the area around Ferrero was not cordoned off by police. Paramedics and other emergency personnel ushered people away from the scene.

One lane of Victoria Road was closed and traffic to and from Camps Bay came to a standstill.

Ferrero ran the Ferrero group, which owns Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, with his brother Giovanni. Their 85-year-old father, Michele turned the company into a global leader of the confectionery industry after taking over the chairmanship in 1957.

Michele Ferrero is listed as Italy’s richest man in Forbes magazine’s latest rankings, ahead of eyewear tycoon Leonardo Del Vecchio and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a billionaire television magnate-turned-politician.

“Italy has lost a businessman who represented the best qualities of our economic history,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said. Frattini said Ferrero had “brought an exceptionally important contribution to the Made in Italy brand around the world”.

As news of Ferrero’s death spread last night, Twitter users around the world expressed sympathy, calling Ferrero the “chocolate god” and “father of Nutella”.

Others listed their favourite Ferrero Rocher treats.

On Facebook, members expressed their shock. Facebook user Joe van Rensburg, from Port Elizabeth, said: “RIP - the legend will continue. Thank you for the best chocolates.”

Another Facebook user, Ian Cawdrey from the UK, said: “No way has Mr Ferrero who makes Ferrero Rocher died (in) South Africa … RIP Long live Ferrero Rocher.”

The Ferrero story began in the 1940s in Italy’s northern Piedmont region. A forebear, Pietro Ferrero, who was a pastry chef, began the business with a secret recipe that used nuts to cut down on the more expensive cocoa in a spread that was to be called Nutella and quickly became popular.

The company also owns the Kinder and Tic-Tac brands. It had a turnover of $9.4 billion (nearly R65bn) in 2009/10 - 4.3 percent higher than the previous year. - Cape Times