Member of the Month

"Our goal is to further expand the international presence"

Member of the month November 2020 – Max Zeller Söhne AG

Max Zeller Söhne AG's herbal medicines are available in more than 25 countries. The company has successfully build up its international business over the past 15 years. The expertise and network of Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) has already supported Zeller on several occasions: in the analysis of international markets, in establishing contacts with local consultants and industry partners or in legal questions regarding the establishment of locations in Africa. Yulia Kirschner, Director International Division and member of the Executive Committee, provides an insight into the international business and explains which export markets are most important, which challenges the company is mastering and where she sees opportunities for the future.

Max Zeller Söhne AG

Established in 1864 by chemist Max Zeller, the family business is number one in the Swiss phytopharmaceutical market. The company employs 145 people in Romanshorn and Uttwil.

Zeller operates according to the principle "from seed to patient" and proves the effectiveness and tolerability of phytopharmaceuticals through scientific studies. In 2017, it established an affiliate in Kenya and Uganda for this purpose. The subsidiary Vitaplant cultivates a wide range of medicinal plants there using its own infrastructure.

The company began exporting Zeller Balsam, then its most important product, at the very beginning of its history. At the end of the 1980s, Zeller set itself the goal of developing a portfolio of evidence-based phytopharmaceuticals that could also be marketed internationally. It conducted pre-clinical and clinical studies and put together registration dossiers.

In Switzerland, the company focuses on the indication areas of women's health and the central nervous system (CNS). The international portfolio comprises five preparations and covers the indications mood and sleep disorders, allergic rhinitis, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopausal complaints. 

Ms. Kirschner, what inspiration/idea lies at the heart of your company?
Zeller has specialized in developing, producing and marketing well-documented, high-quality phytopharmaceuticals. For us, this includes controlling the entire value chain, from the cultivation of medicinal plants to the production of the finished packaged product. To document our products, we carry out preclinical and clinical studies and publish the results in internationally recognized scientific journals. In our opinion, well-documented phytopharmaceuticals can be used as a sensible first-line therapy in numerous indication areas and thus offer a perfect complement to the existing cornucopia of synthetic drugs.

Our goal is to set standards with our phytopharmaceuticals in selected indication areas and to be the market leader in the phytopharmaceutical sector, both in Switzerland and beyond.

What are your most important export markets and why?
At the moment, Israel, the Asian markets and Germany are our most important markets. We're represented in Israel with our entire export portfolio and have managed to successfully implement our Swiss strategy. Meanwhile, our preparations for mood disorders, stress and sleep disorders are among the market leaders for their indication in Israel. We categorized the Asian markets as strategically relevant thanks to their size and potential. Our preparations for women's health are now well established in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Germany is also very important for us because of the size of its market and its affinity for herbal medicines. It’s the market with the greatest growth potential for us. Eastern Europe is also becoming important as a region. We're working closely with a long-standing partner in Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine and we're successively developing other markets in the region.

What (positive or negative) surprises have you already encountered in export? 
Pharmaceutical companies are confronted with resource- and time-intensive approval processes in the vast majority of markets. For example, it took us 10 years to obtain drug approval in Japan – but this did make us the first company with a herbal preparation to obtain a drug approval in Japan. We put a lot of pioneering work into this. So it's the nicest surprise for us if we receive an approval earlier than expected, meaning we can finally launch the product on the market.

What are you particularly proud of?
When I joined Zeller in 2010, we had 12 markets in our portfolio. We now use active marketing in 25 markets and another five markets are pending approval. We've succeeded in building up a sustainable business with a small team, primarily in Asia, along with Korea, Japan and Taiwan. We've also been growing continuously in Eastern Europe over the last few years. We want to keep up this momentum for the next four years. 

More currently, we're particularly proud of being able to implement our projects according to plan during this extraordinary 'Covid year', despite the lack of traveling. We adapted our marketing strategy to the new circumstances at an early stage and were able to offer an efficient digital solution instead of holding training visits or lectures by our local opinion formers.

What do you particularly appreciate about S-GE's consultancy service?
S-GE has already supported us on several occasions: from the analysis of international markets, to the establishment of contacts with authorities and industry partners, through to legal issues when were building our site in Africa.

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