Michele-FerreroMichele Ferrero, the world’s wealthiest chocolatier and owner of the Nutella empire, died on Saturday aged 89.

The death of Italy’s richest man opens the question of succession and potential tie-ups at the family-controlled Ferrero group, which has sales of around £6 billion.

Mr Ferrero created the chocolate-hazelnut Nutella spread, Ferrero Rocher pralines, Kinder eggs and Tic Tac sweets – turning a provincial chocolate factory into a global empire.

He died at home in Monaco on Valentine’s Day after months of illness, his company revealed.

[pullquote]’He was always ahead of his time thanks to innovative products and his tenacious and reserved work,'[/pullquote]Italian President Sergio Mattarella led the tributes to the ‘born entrepreneur’ and said he was deeply touched by the death of one of the protagonists of Italian industry.

‘He was always ahead of his time thanks to innovative products and his tenacious and reserved work,’ said Mr Mattarella.

Twitter was flooded with messages from people who thanked Ferrero for ‘sweetening up’ their lives.

Mr Ferrero’s net worth of £14.4billion ranked him 31st, the highest of any Italian, on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as of February 2015.

Forbes magazine described Ferrero as ‘the richest candyman on the planet’, putting him and his family in 30th place on their list of the world’s wealthiest people.

The entrepreneur built the business founded by his parents in the 1940s into one of the world’s biggest confectionery companies.

His father Pietro started making Nutella when cocoa was still rationed during World War II and transformed a small coffee bar in Piedmont, Italy, into a sweets factory in 1946.

With cocoa expensive as Italy rebuilt from war, the company experimented with locally abundant nuts as a substitute ingredient and developed Nutella using a cocoa-hazelnut base.

The first pot of Nutella was made in Alba in northwest Italy in April 1964 and the company produces around 365,000 tonnes of Nutella every year in 11 factories around the world.

Mr Ferrero’s son Giovanni became chief executive of the chocolate empire after his older brother Pietro, the chosen heir, died of a heart attack in 2011 while cycling in South Africa.

In late 2013, Giovanni denied suggestions that the company had been approached by the Swiss-based multinational Nestle, saying Ferrero was not for sale.