The umbrella organisation of the chocolate industry in Switzerland, Chocosuisse, has celebrated its 100th birthday with a call for solidarity among its members. The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, took part in an official celebration in Bern to mark the centenary.
The association's president, Dario Kuster, told swissinfo that it was only by working together that manufacturers could promote further success within the industry.
"The work of the association can only be done when people maintain solidarity. Of course, they are competitors but in the common questions of an association and in an industry like ours, it is very important that companies show solidarity," Kuster said.
Chocosuisse was founded by 16 companies, which joined forces a century ago to protect their common interests. Kuster said the challenges facing the industry have changed a lot, but that it still has to deal with a broad spectrum of issues.
"For example, we have negotiations with the unions because we have a collective contract about working conditions. We do a lot in professional education. We are also active in relation to food legislation regarding exports and imports. We also compile statistics and have some public relations activities."
Kuster feels that one of the association's main achievements during its 100 years has been the introduction of a price compensation system for exports and imports.
"This was the result of our lobbying with our government. This system allowed many companies to keep production in Switzerland because it gave fair competition rules for exporting our products," Kuster said.
The Swiss chocolate industry, which underwent rapid development in the 19th century, owes much of its success to the realisation that only ingredients and manufacturing techniques of exceptionally high quality would enable the Swiss to conquer world markets.
Its success has not gone unnoticed abroad. Over the years, there have been hundreds of attempts to make reference to Switzerland on chocolate products from foreign manufacturers.
In its fight to protect the description "Swiss Chocolate", Chocosuisse gives written warnings and also intervenes through the Swiss government and embassies abroad.
"In case it is really necessary, we also bring companies to court as we did some years ago with Cadbury in Britain for their chocolate "Swiss Chalet", which was manufactured in England and not in Switzerland... And we succeeded of course," Kuster told swissinfo.
The Swiss chocolate industry has not always enjoyed success - the period between the two world wars was particularly difficult. "At that time exports from Switzerland were reduced to zero and during the Second World War, the main problem was to obtain the cocoa our manufacturers needed for their production," Kuster said.
The situation became so acute that the Swiss government introduced rationing.
"Between 1943 and 1946, the ration was just one bar of 100 grams per month per head. This is about 10 times less than what the Swiss people eat nowadays," Kuster told swissinfo.
As for the future, Kuster says that one of the big issues is for companies to retain production in Switzerland.
"One of the main challenges is to create conditions in which our member companies can continue to produce their chocolate in Switzerland and not decide to transfer it to other countries. I think this is also the main aim for our association," Kuster added.
swissinfo with agencies
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