Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
  2. Europe
26 January 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:26pm

France’s Nutella riots aren’t funny

They are the symbol of the deep divide between Macron’s ideal vision for an energetic, business-oriented France - and the French workers suffering from it.

By Pauline Bock

You may have seen the videos: in French supermarkets Intermarché, customers are rushing towards shelves of Nutella jars. They’re running, shouting, fighting, rummaging to grab a jar of the chocolate flavoured paste (best tasted on crêpes, but tartines also work). “Give this back! I was here first!” cries a woman, furious. Someone exclaims: “No, that’s not normal”. People open boxes, stock their bags with one, two, three jars of Nutella.

“So, in Roubaix [northern France] a woman threw a Nutella jar at someones head, just for a Nutella jar on sale at €1,40”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

This mess happened simultaneously in various French supermarkets when grocery chain Intermarché advertised a massive sale on 1kg Nutella jars, priced at €1,41 instead of the usual €4,50.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

How French, you might have thought – fighting for Nutella, the most French of all crêpe fillings (even if it is made in italy)!  How funny! It, of course, went viral.

I’m French, and I love Nutella, but I don’t find this news funny, not even remotely.

People are fighting over food, in France, in 2018. Sure, it’s Nutella, not bread or pasta; it is not an item of “first necessity”. But it is telling of a France that is more and more divided, and it’s not the one president Macron will tell you about in his speeches.

The advertised price is a 70 per cent reduction from an amount of money (€4,50) many people would consider high, making Nutella some kind of luxury. French workers on minimum wage are paid €9,88 per hour, which is €1,498.47 monthly. For them, €4,50 for a Nutella jar is almost half an hour of work. A jar of Nutella at a third of its price is a very good deal for them, and for many others, too. No wonder people rushed to snap it up.

The massive response to this sale shines light not on the French’s love for Nutella (probably infinite), but on the precarious position in which many French workers, and shoppers, find themselves. Prices are rising and people’s wages aren’t keeping step.

And it’s not going to get any better for them. Macron’s looming labour reform is already eroding French workers’ rights and making redundancies easier for companies. Carmaker PSA, supermarket chain Carrefour, bank Société Gérérale and clothing chain Pimkie have all announced lay-offs in the past weeks.

President Macron has had harsh words for poor people in the past, calling them “illiterate”, “people who are nothing” (as opposed to “successful people”). Last summer, he cut down housing aid by €5, which isn’t much for the many who don’t see the difference, but is a big deal for those who do. His class problem isn’t new.

But the president’s actions speak volumes, too. He campaigned on a very liberal programme and has called for private companies to move and invest in France. This week, he invited the CEOs of 140 of the world’s biggest business at his own “mini-Davos” in Versailles, where he secured €3.5 billion in investments. His fiscal reforms and economic policies have been been proven to help the rich.

Macron’s great vision for France increasingly looks like a country where only the rich and “successful” will be able to afford Nutella – and those who “are nothing” will be left to fight for sale prices. So again, ask me why I’m not laughing?