The French historically have fought over many things.
During the revolution in the late 1700s, they fought for their daily bread and later for liberte, egalite, fraternite. In the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, they fought for reason and science.
France, of course, was among the allies who fought with Britain, the United States and others in World War I and World War II. In recent years, the French have fought to defend their “cultural exception,” a term that covers a multitude of things from haute cuisine to workers’ rights.
This week, some people in France chose to fight over jars of chocolate and hazelnut spread after the Intermarche supermarket chain offered 33.5-ounce jars of the Nutella brand at a 70% discount, from $5.59 to $1.75 a jar. The spread is a breakfast staple for French children.
Lines of customers reminiscent of Black Friday shoppers had formed early outside many Intermarche stores across the country as reports of the unusually generous discount spread. When the shop doors opened, chaos ensued.
In some places, punches were thrown, hair was pulled, faces were scratched and elderly customers were trampled underfoot as shoppers scrabbled to grab jars of the spread.
“They are like animals. One woman had her hair pulled. An elderly lady took a box on her head. Another had a bloody hand,” one customer at an Intermarche store in Rive-de-Gier southwest of the city of Lyon told journalists Friday.
At an Intermarche supermarket in the Moselle region of eastern France, an employee who did not want to be named said people were “piling in.”
“They knocked over everything and were breaking stuff. It was an orgy…. We were on the point of calling the police,” the employee said.
Store staff members who tried to calm rampaging shoppers in some cases reportedly found themselves pushed aside. One customer in a store in the Loire region in central France suffered a black eye. There were no reports of serious injuries or arrests.
Some stores reported selling more of the spread in five minutes than they normally sold in three months. Other shops insisted customers could buy a maximum of three 33.5-ounce jars.
On social media networks, stunned shop workers and customers posted videos of what were described as scenes of near rioting.
Intermarche has apologized and said it was surprised its offer, which began Thursday and was to continue until Saturday, had sparked battle scenes in stores.
Ferrero, the Italian firm that produces Nutella, said it had nothing to do with the promotion.
“We regret the consequences of this operation, which created confusion and disappointment in customers’ minds,” Ferrero said in a statement.
In recent years, Ferrero has come under criticism for its use of palm oil and high levels of sugar in its flagship product that celebrated 50 years of production in 2014. About 400 million pounds of the product are made in 11 factories worldwide and consumed in 160 countries.
Footage of American or British shoppers pushing and shoving their way into stores on the first day of discount sales often are viewed with disdain in France and seen as evidence of rampant capitalism and unfettered consumerism.
This week’s supermarket scenes have shown even the French are not averse to an unusually good bargain.