Sticky-fingered students: Nutella theft hits Columbia

The Ivy League university's student newspaper says $5,000 in the chocolate-hazelnut spread disappears each week.

By Jason Notte Mar 7, 2013 2:52PM
Jars of Nutella in a supermarket in Slough, England on September 3, 2012 (© Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)A college meal plan does funny things to a person's eating habits.

Students who haven't had sugary cereal since grade school and were raised on grain-and-fruit blends buckle in the face of ubiquitous Cocoa Puffs and Cap'n Crunch. Undergrads who'd never even heard of a Monte Cristo sandwich before entering the dining hall start eating them two at a time. Soft ice cream becomes an appropriate side dish to any meal.

Then there's Columbia University, where the chocolate-hazelnut spread flows freely, and ongoing thefts of the large brown jars add up to $5,000 a week, according to The Columbia Spectator.

But why Nutella? Is there a black market for a dessert spread being lost at an estimated 100 pounds per day? Are students running underground creperies out of their dorm rooms? Is there a similar run on bananas?

No. The problem is that Nutella is both tasty and somewhat costly. Even at discount chains like Wal-Mart (WMT), it fetches more than $6 per 26.5-ounce container, compared to $4 for a similar size container of Jif peanut butter. In France, citizens collectively flipped out when it was suggested that palm oil -- one of Nutella's key ingredients -- be taxed at 300%, according to France 24.

The spread is so beloved in some circles that even the $3 million settlement of a class action last year targeting claims made by Nutella's U.S. distributor, Ferrero USA, that it was good for children did little did little to diminish its standing. The sizable to-go cups of Nutella reportedly taken from Columbia dining halls and the full jars suddenly disappearing from its shelves back this up.

But has $5,000 worth of Nutella really been disappearing on a weekly basis since it debuted on campus in mid-February? The New York Times concludes that's probably not the case, quoting a Columbia spokeswoman who claims initial reports are "roughly 10 times greater than the actual figures." And Gothamist suggests the university's dining department is getting ripped off well before Nutella reaches students' hands, if it's paying $5,000 a week for the stuff.

With Columbia charging a whopping $2,363 per term for dining expenses, student council representatives say they're not surprised that students feel a bit entitled to their ill-gotten goodies.

However, why limit yourself to spreading stolen Nutella on any stale baguette that comes your way? Just leave it where it sits, and make it part of Columbia's Whole Foods-style dining-hall feast that, according to the Spectator, includes almond butter and lobster tails. They may have to spend roughly $50,000 to get there, but new Columbia students should have no problem breaking the speed record for adding the freshman 15 to their waistlines this semester, on a road paved with every elitist Ivy League metaphor imaginable.

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Mar 7, 2013 5:01PM
Nutello is freaking awesome! My fave spread :)
Mar 7, 2013 4:59PM
what are you people talking about nutella's awesome
Mar 7, 2013 5:17PM

Be advised that the Nutella sold in the US is Nutella only in name.  The  American- produced Nutella does not contain the same original ingredients used in France or Italy.  It is actually  illegal to sell

Italian Nutella with the proper ingredients in the US since  Nestle bought out Ferrero, the original company that invented Nutella.  For marketing and economic purposes Nestle  only allows US made Nutella  in the US..If you want to buy French or Italian Nutella you have to buy it as a bootlegged item coming from Canada, where it is legal to sell original Nutella.  Sorry Americans never got to taste what Nutella is really like.  I grew up on the stuff.  If you travel to Europe, try the  real stuff  but be advised: it's addictive. Spread it, lick it, put  a crepe' on it, bake with it etc.. You will not be disappointed.

Mar 7, 2013 5:12PM
To try and pass this stuff off as healthy is a joke.  Sugar and fat - yummy!
Mar 7, 2013 5:03PM
Palm oil is one of the most highly saturated (i.e. artery-clogging) fats in existence.
Mar 7, 2013 5:04PM

95% of the crap we eat for b-fast is not good for you...Whats your point.

Mar 7, 2013 5:01PM
They found a way to snort it to get high
Mar 7, 2013 5:06PM
I wish someone would take my container of Nutella, I shouldn't be eating it (I'm on a diet) and it will expire in April. I don't want it to go to waste.
Mar 7, 2013 5:41PM

the cocoa almond butter at trader joe's is better and all natural!

- USC grad student

Mar 7, 2013 6:38PM
I don't understand why people who can afford to attend a $40,000 per year school have to steal Nutella.  Maybe they just think they deserve it because their tuition is so high.
Mar 7, 2013 5:15PM
Never tasted it. I Just like peanut butter and lots of it. Don't want to eat something with that much sugar and Monsanto corn sugar in it. YUK
Mar 7, 2013 5:30PM

Nutella......its something magic when you have the munchies. Perhaps this is why its such a hot item in college campus these days.  

Mar 7, 2013 6:19PM
Spread chocolate paste on bread and call it a healthy snack.  Really?  Yes, it has a few hazelnuts in it, but this is like eating Captain Crunch cereal and justifying by saying it has wheat in it.  People, The main ingredient is sugar.  It is not a healthy food for children.  It's like a spreadable candy bar.
Mar 7, 2013 5:27PM
Aldi has a much less expensive version, if you can find it. Worth a shot.
Mar 7, 2013 5:13PM
my kids love it and so do i but too priceeeey
Mar 7, 2013 6:39PM
Mar 7, 2013 5:13PM
nutella - immediately goes to power metal.
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