The boss of Mövenpick, Bruno Schöpfer, says his company has been passed over as a possible partner by SAirGroup, which is seeking new investors for its hotel chain, Swissôtel.
In an interview with swissinfo on Tuesday, Schöpfer said the troubled airline conglomerate had not even invited Mövenpick to put forward a tender.
"Unfortunately we have not been invited to the tender process," explained Schöpfer. "Obviously you must ask the board of directors of Swissôtel why a Swiss company that is financially strong and a good company is not invited to the tender process."
SAirGroup, which owns Swissôtel, refused to comment on Schöpfer's remarks, and would only say that it was seeking partners.
"There are three options. We may keep Swissôtel as part of the SAirGroup, or find a suitable partner or sell it off," the spokesman told swissinfo. "We are not prepared to comment on who we are talking to or who we are not talking to."
Mövenpick had been in talks over a possible partnership with SAirGroup's hotel chain for the past two years, according to Schöpfer.
"Patriotically, I think that it is an important issue for Switzerland," he said. "the country is famous for its hospitality and gastronomy and I think it is very important that this group stays Swiss."
SAirGroup is currently struggling to put its house in order following the resignation of several high-ranking officials, as well the board of directors. Media reports speculated last weekend that the group was haemorrhaging money and may have lost as much as SFr2.5 billion last year.
Mövenpick announced it had been passed over as a potential partner during a press conference on Tuesday, when it released its latest results.
The hotel to gastronomy company saw net income rise by 11.5 per cent last year to SFr16.1 million ($9.76 million). The company said that based on current conditions it should see further growth in 2001.
In a statement, Mövenpick said group sales grew by 7.4 per cent to SFr928.2 million and total sales (including sales by management and franchises) rose by 4.1 per cent to SFr1.318 billion.
It said that thanks to operational improvements, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) had increased from SFr18.7 million to SFr30.4 million.
One black spot was Mövenpick's expansion of its Fine Foods business in Asia, where revenues came in below expectations.
"We are committed to the Asia-Pacific market, but what we had to realise is that an expansion of our food business is more expensive and it takes more time than we expected," said Schöpfer.
"We were too aggressive in our setting of goals and we had logistical problems with regard to ice cream packaging, and we had a product recalled in Japan."
Mövenpick, famous for its restaurants and cafés in Switzerland, is also facing pressure at home, after the United States groups McDonalds Aroma coffee shop and Starbucks recently opened new outlets in Zurich.
"We will open a coffee concept which will simply celebrate Mövenpick coffee and ice cream," said Schöpfer. "But we will only see three to four outlets per city with the first one opening in May."
Looking to the future, Mövenpick, which launched a reorganisation programme two years ago, is forecasting growth of six per cent in sales and seven per cent in EBIT, according to the group's chief executive.
by Tom O'Brien