TO MEET the anticipated increase in demand for its confectionery in SA, the Ferrero Group plans to increase production and employ more people, the company said yesterday.

"Although we are at the very early stages, the South African factory is starting to strengthen its foundation," the Ferrero Group told Business Day.

The maker of Nutella, Kinder and Tic Tacs opened its 9000m² production facility in Walkerville, Gauteng, in June 2009.

Between the company's manufacturing and commercial division, it employs 380 people in SA. In the past five years it has opened factories in Cameroon, India, Russia and Canada.

The company is aiming to set up a large scale hazelnut industry, and through its subsidiary, Agrisudafrica, Ferrero imported over 450000 plants from South America. As most of its products use hazelnuts, the group is working on trial sites to verify the suitability of climatic and soil conditions for hazelnut cultivation.

"Our focus is on building sustainable communities by creating employment opportunities and providing skills training for our employees," Ferrero said.

In May, Ferrero's complaint against Fruit & Veg City was upheld. The confectionery group complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that Tresor Dore chocolates, sold at Food Lovers Market stores, were imitations of its signature gold-wrapped Rocher chocolate, which sells more than 4,6-billion single units annually in more than 130 countries on five continents.

"The product is presented in stylish, transparent containers, specially designed to showcase the gold-wrapped confections. They are sold in quantities of three, 16, 24, and 30 - elements which are subject of five trade mark registrations in SA," the company said in papers filed with the ASA.

The authority ruled that Fruit and Veg City must sell out its Chinese-produced Tresor Dore stock by September.

"It's become a serious problem in every industry; counterfeiters are destroying the so called legal companies," Ferrero said.

The Ferrero company was established in Alba, a town in the northern Italian province of Piedmont in 1946, when former CE Pietro Ferrero's grandparents transformed a coffee bar and pastry shop into a sweet factory. As a result of cocoa being in short supply due to Second World War rationing, the company experimented with using locally abundant nuts as a substitute.

The group now operates 41 companies and 18 production plants across the world. In the financial year 2010-11, its turnover exceeded ?7,2bn.

mooradz@bdfm.co.za