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Online shop offers Swiss icons

Lorenz Meier, Nico Schefer and Daniel Schulthess have plenty of Swiss icons at hand


A group of young entrepreneurs has found a novel way of doing business: selling Switzerland over the internet.

Their idea has so far not earned them any money, but the partners are determined to persevere, offering traditional products that are often unavailable abroad.

Caotina chocolate drink tins are piled up in an old church hall in Zurich’s Wipkingen area where children used to attend Sunday school.

From here, Swiss goods like Caotina are sent to all corners of the globe.

"I had this idea in my head for years," says Daniel Schulthess, founder of the Subwave company, which has also been selling Russian watches over the internet for the past five years.

"I’m no staunch patriot but when I was a child, a Swiss passport meant something," he says. "That’s now changed."

Schulthess got the idea to start the Swissmade shop when the national airline, Swissair, was grounded in the autumn of 2001.

"I had a few ideas on how the new airline (Swiss) could be led back to quality and exclusiveness."

With partners Lorenz Meyer, Nico Schefer and Andreas Meier on board, Schulthess went in search of good Swiss products.

"Ten years ago I was asked to bring some Gerber fondue mixture and a pan strainer to expatriates in South Africa," Schulthess recalls. You can find both on their online shop.

Army blankets

There are also Swiss Army knives, Cailler chocolate, Villiger handmade cigars, Leckerli (spice biscuits), Sigg aluminium bottles, Caran d’Ache colour pencils, as well as rock crystals, army blankets, army cookware or watches from Wenger and Zeno.

"The product line is a tight-rope walk," Meier explains. "Maggi stock cubes are these days made by Nestlé, and other traditional Swiss firms are now in foreign hands."

A good example of this is Wander, the company which produces the world-renowned Ovomaltine (Ovaltine) malt drink. Wander now belongs to Associated British Foods after being divested by Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis.

"The important factor is that they (the products) still have a connection to Switzerland."

Schefer recalls that in the beginning the partners used to go to buy some of the products they needed from the grocer’s across the street but that all changed after they struck a deal with a food wholesaler.

Army knives

Other companies including Victorinox, one of the two official producers of Swiss Army knives, and a number of watchmakers have refused to cooperate with the online business.

So the young entrepreneurs have had to rely on their creativity and knowledge of the branch.

"You can buy Toblerone or an army knife anywhere in the world," Meier says, "but dark Frigor chocolate is not on sale in the United States."

Most orders come from the US, followed by Britain and France. "Many housewives with Swiss roots order products from us that they miss," adds Schefer.

"Often they finish their orders with a greeting in German," he says.

Since all the partners have other full-time jobs, the business has survived even though it has not yet made a profit. But the partners want their decidedly Swiss approach to eventually pay off.

"The project has become very close to our hearts. We are very tough," says Schefer with a disarming frankness.

swissinfo, Philippe Kropf in Zurich

Key facts

Swissmade is a new online shop based in Zurich that sells traditional Swiss products.
The renowned Rex vegetable peeler and Swiss chocolate are among the best sellers.

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In brief

The product range includes army knives, chocolate, cigars, biscuits, water bottles, pencil crayons and watches.

The prices are not cheap, but the partners in the web shop say they want to offer quality, good service and information about the products they sell.

The Swiss abroad buy mainly foodstuffs they cannot find outside Switzerland.

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