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Swiss cry foul as Emmi seeks to sell microwaveable fondue

Stagnant Swiss demand has been holding Emmi back, as more than half the company’s sales come from Switzerland

Image Credit: Bloomberg
Urs Riedener
Gulf News

Zurich: Switzerland’s biggest dairy company is trying to counter stagnating sales in its home market by getting the Swiss to eat microwaveable fondue, prompting cheese purists to cry sacrilege.

Emmi AG plans to introduce its All-in-One FondA. 25 kit in its home market next year, Chief Executive Officer Urs Riedener said in an interview. The $15 set has been on sale since last year in the US at retailers such as Kroger supermarkets.

While the Swiss consume 28 pounds (13kg) of cheese per person each year, more than seven times the world average, little growth is forecast for the next five years, according to Euromonitor. Meanwhile, the strength of the Swiss franc has exacerbated competition from cheaper foreign cheeses, both in the form of imports to Switzerland and visits to neighbouring countries like France and Germany, where prices are lower. Emmi is bringing the iconic Swiss dish back to the old world after sales in the US showed promise.

“We have to move away from that Swiss mountain chalet atmosphere, because it’s a bit old-fashioned,” the CEO said. “The trend was that fondue had become very boring and you had to have the equipment.’’

The move sparked suspicion among some Swiss consumers.

“I wouldn’t buy it and think it’s blasphemy,” said Silvan Gehrig, a 31-year-old lawyer in Zurich. “Cozily sitting together around the fondue pot is just as much the experience as the cheese.”

That pot isn’t sacred to Emmi. Lucerne-based cheesemaker previously sold a $50 Fondue Party Helmet, meant to accompany American football tailgate parties in the US The helmet held the cheese, while the face mask could be used for bread.

The US went through a fondue fad during the 1960s, but its popularity in Switzerland has remained constant. It’s usually made with Gruyere and Emmental cheese.

Stagnant Swiss demand has been holding Emmi back, as more than half the company’s sales come from Switzerland. Emmi has also been trying to offset that reliance expanding in the US, where it bought Cowgirls Creamery, a San Francisco-based maker of speciality cheeses earlier this year.

Emmi shares have gained 41 per cent in the past year as the cheesemaker has managed to stem the decline in sales. The decline was 0.7 per cent in the first half compared with the 3 per cent drop in the full year 2015, both on an adjusted basis.

The next traditional food Emmi plans to convert into a convenience meal is porridge, as Emmi has found a way of packaging oatmeal mixed with milk while ensuring the porridge stays crispy, according to Riedener. The Swiss food maker introduced the pre-packaged porridge in its home market last month, and now has its sights set on the UK, hoping to attract millennial consumers who are looking for healthy snacks.

Next month, the product will debut under Emmi’s Onken brand at British grocers like J Sainsbury Plc and Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc.

“It’s like fondue,” Riedener said. “It is an old, kind of boring product, but it’s becoming trendy.”