ROME -- Pietro Ferrero, the chief executive of the Ferrero Group holding company that produces Nutella, Tic Tac mints and other confections and a scion of one of Italy's richest families, died yesterday after falling from a bicycle while on a business trip in South Africa. He was 47.

Pietro Ferrero was also chairman of Ferrero S.p.A. the Italian branch of the family-run company and the heart of the candy and sweets maker empire.

The company's press office at headquarters in Alba, northwestern Italy, said Ferrero, a cycling enthusiast, was riding a bike on his usual training run on a road in Cape Town when he fell off. It said it wasn't clear what prompted the fall.

With him on the business trip was his father, Michele Ferrero, who turned the company into an international sweets producer and invented successes including Nutella and Kinder in the 1960s and helped make the Ferreros a billionaire family that is now Italy's richest.

Ferrero's namesake grandfather Pietro started the company in 1942, supplying products for a pastry shop run by his wife, Piera, in Alba, in the region of Piedmont. Because it was hard to obtain ingredients for sweets during World War II, the elder Pietro Ferrero decided to exploit something Piedmont had in abundance -- hazelnuts -- and invented a confection using a sweet paste made from the nut.

The company's line of products went international under the leadership of Michele Ferrero, son of the founder, who was the driving force behind the company's international expansions, starting with Germany in 1956, and then moving into Eastern Europe, Russia and Latin America in the 1990s.

The 6 billion euro revenue company has more than 20,000 employees worldwide.

Pietro Ferrero began working in Ferrero Germany in 1985 after getting a university degree in biology, and then moved to company headquarters in Alba, working on technical and production matters.

In 1992, he took on the responsibility of managing operations in the European division of the Ferrero group.

At his death he was chief executive of Ferrero International S.A., the Luxembourg-based holding group of Ferrero Group, and chairman of Ferrero, S.p.A., the Italian branch of the Group.

The family was Ferrero's only shareholder.

The company was proud about what it called its "social enterprises." These are local Ferrero plants in needier areas of the world, including South Africa, India and Cameroon, where local residents are employed and part of the revenue goes to fund education and health care for poor children.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini described Ferrero as a "businessman of exceptional talent, gifted with strategic vision and deep sensibility" for Italy's overall interests. He said Ferrero "knew how to embody the best qualities of our industrial history -- the continued search for excellence, creativity, the determination to compete even in difficult moments to strengthen one's brand to the point that it becomes a symbol."

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