Innovative technologies keeping the Swiss food industry competitive

Small and medium-sized fresh food exporters face the recurring challenge of having to secure their supply chain. Christof Züger, CEO of Züger Frischkäse AG, delivers fresh mozzarella to the Gulf States even, and believes that technological innovation is what keeps Swiss SMEs competitive internationally.
Milk bottles on a production line.
Exporting fresh food is a challenging business.

Mr Züger, you're an expert in the production of fresh dairy products, and are highly successful in Germany as well, with your lactose-free product line for example, and you also do business in the Gulf States and Scandinavia. Those two regions are included in the focus of this year's Impulse: Food – Innovation from Tradition.Impulse: Food – Innovation from Trad.

What is your approach to selecting export markets, especially in view of the fact that you are selling fresh foods?

We sell our fresh dairy products in Europe. Their average expiration date is in 30 days. That makes exporting outside the EU difficult, particularly because all our overseas transport is by ship. Outside the EU we sell mainly our IQF frozen mozzarella specialties. The product is flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen using IQF (Individual Quick Frozen) technology. This technology allows freezing products individually, so they retain their specific shape, texture, and taste. Our IQF products keep for an average period of 540 days at -18°C.

How does the company position its dairy products in the GCC states? How, for example, do you ensure your supply chain is optimally secure, or that your products are halal-compliant?

In the GCC countries, we sell our IQF mozzarella specialties to the hotel industry. Our products are thus used in breakfast buffets, for example, for sandwich-making and in convenience products. These products are in the premium price segment in the GCC states.

The cold chain must be maintained all the way from the factory. Product quality otherwise is greatly compromised; the products would no longer be edible. We thus have the corresponding Incoterms (international commercial terms) contractually in place, to regulate risk and responsibilities.

The company has to be certified to supply Halal products; an annual audit is conducted. Documentation is kept of compliance with the relevant regulations. Our staff members are trained accordingly, and production is overseen by our quality management.

Are there similar circumstances in the Scandinavian countries? Particular regulations for example or consumer trends and preferences?

We are now supplying IQF frozen dairy products there as well. Plans are to introduce fresh products for food service as well. Finland requires a maximum residual lactose content of 0.01% for lactose-free products, as compared to the standard 0.1% in Switzerland and in the EU. We have developed a technology for complying with this threshold that enables us to supply products in that segment.

Norway is an EFTA member state. To export cheese to that country you first have to acquire a quota. That complicates export, due to the high quota handling risk.

What role does innovation play with classic dairy products?

Innovations, principally technological ones, are highly important, as they allow us to sell our dairy products with added value. Production is more expensive in Switzerland than in the EU, as our milk price is higher. We have to recoup this difference by selling added-value products for which our customers are willing to pay extra.

Impulse: Innovation from Tradition

At our Impulse: Food to be held in Fribourg on 10/27/2016 and in Baden on 11/08/2016 you can discuss challenges and opportunities in the food industry like market entry with other Swiss SMEs.

About Christof Züger

Christof Züger and his brother jointly manage the family firm Züger Frischkäse AG in its second generation. After completing a traditional cheesemaking apprenticeship he studied food engineering at the ETH in Zurich.

About Züger Frischkäse AG

Züger Frischkäse AG is a family firm in eastern Switzerland that processes quality fresh milk from local sources into superior cream cheese products. Milk from 400 farming families in the region is refined at the company's plant in Oberbüren (230 employees) to make high-quality foods for everyday consumption.

Züger Frischkäse AG is the winner of the 2016 Export Award

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