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 Thu 2:52 PM

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 toThe 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 +0.25%), 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.