Plenty of people get excited about Swiss chocolate, but Swiss biscuits? If you travel to the village of Trubschachen in the Emmental you will discover people with a passion for biscuit making.
Alongside the railway track, a steady stream of people come out of the Kambly shop at its factory with plastic bags full of Switzerland’s leading specialty biscuits. The brand is a household name and they are even sold at airports these days.
It would be fair to say that Kambly and its biscuits are what Lindt is to chocolate, proof that the Swiss are no strangers when it comes to the word “premium”.
It all started 100 years ago with a romance and continues with the third generation of Oscars.
“My grandfather [Oscar I] founded the Kambly company in 1910. He happened to meet a girl from Trubschachen at his commercial school in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. They fell in love and he decided to come here,” chairman Oscar Kambly III told swissinfo.ch.
“He came here as a baker and he started to bake Bretzeli – that was a family recipe – for his friends and for the village. It was such a success in the region that he decided to start a business.”
The Emmental Bretzeli - wafer thin waffle biscuits – are still going strong, but over time Kambly has introduced a wide range of specialties to tempt its customers.
Kambly’s father, Oscar II, had the idea of joining the art of chocolatier and the industrial production of biscuits. This synthesis created a new generation of products, says Kambly III, “so Kambly is lifestyle, it’s like a vintage wine, a piece of art, pure indulgence”.
The company’s ingredients are sourced whenever possible locally. The local cows play no small part in the story.
“The Emmental valley milk produces wonderful quality products. You know the cows are [out] all day, and maybe all night in summer, in nature and they are in harmony with it. Their product is an expression of that quality of life,” Kambly III said.
Middle of nowhere?
When asked whether Trubschachen isn’t a little bit in the middle of nowhere, Kambly III smiles and puts the picture straight: “It is wonderful farming country, pure air, pure water, lovely forests and meadows and yes, it is 40 minutes from the next highway entry but it is right in the middle of Switzerland.”
The company now enjoys a brand recognition of 97 per cent in Switzerland and is exported to more than 50 countries. Turnover has increased five-fold since Kambly III took over the reins of the firm in 1981.
He explains that the company has become so well known because it stands for what his grandfather had pioneered – “quality without compromise”.
Kambly III also smiles when asked about competition, particularly cheaper products that are made in European Union countries.
“Competition is a wonderful thing. It is stimulating… We certainly don’t fear cheap competition because that is another game.”
The firm has been celebrating its 100th anniversary proudly. For example, early in the year a 100-metre long Emmental speciality, a plaited loaf, was baked and was divided into 420 pieces, one for each of the firm’s employees.
Kambly III has nothing but praise for his staff, with some of them from families who have worked for the company for three generations - rather like the Kambly family.
“Our team is as a big family and in a winning team you give your very best and the more you give, the more you get [back].”
There’s also an unmistakable Kambly train running on the tracks of the Swiss Federal Railways between Bern and Lucerne several times a day, a clever way to bring people to and from Trubschachen.
“The Swiss railways system also stands for Swissness. It is very reliable, it is precise, it is clean, people meet and when you take the train, you all share the same destination and route - what a wonderful symbol.”
At special events, the train conductor even hands out an individually-wrapped biscuit to passengers when checking tickets.
Continue to thrive
Kambly III is certain that his company will, in the future, continue to thrive in its niche market, despite the fact there is no Oscar Kambly IV to take over the company.
“We are very happy that fate has given us a daughter. There is no Oscar IV but we are very confident to go on as a family-owned company… and we are looking forward to the next 100 years.
Every once in a while someone comes along wanting to buy the company, says Kambly III. “I keep telling them: Keep your dollars, I’ll keep my passion.”
Kambly Key Facts
The company has annual turnover of more than SFr160 million ($163 million), half of which is generated abroad.
It has factories at Trubschachen and Lyss, both in canton Bern.
It has won a number of awards. They were for recognition as the best Swiss brand (2003), for successful company management (2006), as an employer with the most sustainable development (2008) and innovation (2009).
Its factory in Truschachen features The Kambly Experience where people are led through the company’s history, with light and sound effects up to the “window of the future”.
Visitors can also discover the secrets of the art of fine biscuit making as well as the raw materials used and their provenance. By appointment, they can even make their own biscuits.
Trubschachen and Art
The village has a population of around 1,500 and every four years puts on an art exhibition that pulls in the crowds from near and far. The last one attracted more than 25,000 visitors in just over three weeks in 2009.
The next one in June/July 2013 will feature works by Giovanni Segantini, Cuno Amiet and Augusto Giacometti.
A total of 380 volunteers help run the show.
“Art is a wonderful expression of the search for excellence,” Kambly III says.