Category manager Andreas Allenspach of Coop Switzerland:

“Twenty-two per cent of our fresh produce turnover is from organic produce”

It’s as if summer refuses to end in Switzerland. “It’s truly bizarre. This many plums, apples and pears have never been grown in people’s gardens before. It’s seriously affecting supermarket turnover,” says fresh produce category manager Andreas Allenspach of Swiss supermarket Coop. Qualitatively, the dry weather doesn’t have major consequences, according to him. “Quality is great. However, it remains to be seen how the apples and pears will hold up in spring, and whether they’re strong enough to last until the end of the season. Normally, Switzerland has plenty of its own product available, particularly in apples, but no one knows what’s to be expected next spring.”

Andreas worked in the Dutch fresh produce trade for more than 3.5 years. He returned to his homeland on 1 December 2014. Last year, Coop introduced a new fresh produce department concept that is now being implemented in all branches. “I’m very satisfied by how this has been received by our customers. Thanks to clear lines and a natural and sustainable look of the shelves, we managed to increase turnover by two per cent,” Andreas says.

Within Swiss retail, Migros and Coop have been the two most important supermarket chains for years, but the so-called discount formulas are on the rise. “Aldi and particularly Lidl are doing well in Switzerland, albeit still on a fairly small scale,” Andreas continues. However, the biggest competition still comes from Swiss people who do their shopping in German and French supermarkets at the weekend, according to him. “That share is a high and stable level. But it’s to our advantage that the Swiss franc isn’t as strong as it was a year ago.”

For many years, Coop has had an extensive organic assortment. This year, the retailer celebrated the 25th anniversary of its own brand Naturaplan with actions and shelf promotions. “The Swiss care a great deal about nature and sustainability. Last year, our organic turnover increased by as much as 15 per cent, and in total, 22 per cent of our fresh produce turnover is organic,” Andreas explains. “This high share is undoubtedly also due to the average income being fairly high in Switzerland, allowing more people to buy more expensive products.”

At a product level, soft fruit in particular is a fast-growing category. “A lot of Swiss growers are expanding their area, blueberries are the fastest-growing product,” the category manager says. The changing climate is also causing some novelties on the market. “This year, we were surprised by the first locally grown physalis. Quality wasn’t as good as the Colombian product yet, but I thought it was remarkable the production was possible at all. Customers think local product is very important. Nowadays, about half our fresh produce comes from Swiss production. For vegetables, it’s about 60 per cent, and for fruit about 40 per cent.”

Swiss retail is also familiar with plenty of challenges, the packaging discussion being number one. “Everyone’s talking about it, and the general trend is that people want to get rid of plastic packaging, particularly for organic fruit and vegetables. That’s why we conducted an extensive research with a Swiss university into which fruit and vegetable varieties absolutely require this because of shelf life,” Andreas says. The retailer isn’t quite ready to switch to a technique like laser branding yet. “We did a test with this last year, but we didn’t think the machine had the right throughput speed, and besides, the energy usage of this laser machine was very high. That’s why we’ve now chosen a sticker as a more sustainable solution. However, I don’t want to rule out starting with this technique at a later date.”

Pesticides are a second challenge, and environmental organisations are actively looking for publicity. Every month, the Swiss media features an analysis about which means are found. Although MRLs aren’t exceeded, retail is being held responsible for this, according to Andreas. Last but not least, food waste is another major point of attention among the Swiss. “Coop started working on this five years ago, and we introduced our own brand Unique. We sell visually different fruit and vegetables under this brand. Citrus, potatoes and kiwi fruit are the biggest products of this brand. This year, we sold 700 tonnes of different products under this brand.”

 

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