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Profit rises at Swiss baker Hiestand

Croissants are an important part of Hiestand's output

(Keystone Archive)

Swiss gourmet baker Hiestand - one of the world's leading manufacturers of frozen and convenience bakery products - has reported a big jump in profit last year.

Hiestand said its net income was up 140 per cent over the previous year at SFr11.6 million ($8.5 million).

At a news conference in Zurich on Thursday, Hiestand said it had managed to return to the same level of profitability as in 2000 despite difficult international market conditions.

Increase in group turnover slowed down in 2002 to four per cent to SFr301.5 million.

Focus on growth

However, sales in the first quarter have grown by 9.2 per cent to SFr75.6 million.

The company, founded in 1967, had been reporting annual sales growth of 20 per cent over the past few years but profitability had not performed in line.

Hiestand's share price has also been in the doldrums, performing well below the SFr540 tag set when the company went public in 1997.

CEO Wolfgang Werlé, who has been at the company for 18 months, has put his focus on qualitative growth with a programme to cut costs and develop new products according to customer wishes.

"We have to really focus on our share price but you cannot act against a declining market," he told swissinfo.

"We have now shown excellent results. We have to improve further but I think we are on the right track," he added.

Recipe for success

The company says that its ready-to-cook products, which are frozen immediately after being made and are designed to be heated just before consumption, offer unbeatable freshness.

For some Swiss bakers Hiestand's concept of oven-ready products poses a threat to their existence.

"This development damages the baking trade," Gérard Michellod, the president of the West Switzerland association of bakers and confectioners, told swissinfo.

Hiestand's CEO Werlé sees the situation differently.

"We say we have delivered or still deliver 50 per cent of traditional bakeries in Switzerland with one or more of our products," he said.

"This is a challenge. It's also an advantage for them to have deep-frozen products because they can serve customers the whole day long."

Swiss market leader

In Switzerland, the company was able to build on its leading position in 2002 and increase sales by 17 per cent to SFr139 million, thanks to growth particularly in the wholesale and convenience foods divisions.

And it has plans to expand its business with the Swiss number two retailer, Coop. Sales doubled to SFr24 million in 2002 and are set to receive a boost from 2005 when the two form a joint venture to supply bread.

The company performed less well in its other key market, Germany, where sales at SFr109 million were 2.2 per cent down on the previous year.

Another area where the company's performance suffered was Japan, where the knock-on effects of the recession and a scandal in Germany surrounding use of the Nitrofen herbicide combined to push sales down ten per cent to SFr16.9 million.

Although no Nitrofen was detected in Hiestand products, the company was barred from selling products of German origin for one month.

Hiestand is counting on a sales increase of nine to ten per cent this year, with a net profit increase of four to five per cent.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Hiestand summary

According to legend, the croissant originated in Austria during the 17th century when the country was under Turkish occupation.
The croissant was later introduced to France by Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI.
Hiestand is the Swiss market leader in the production of frozen croissants, bread rolls and other types of bread.
In 2002, the company increased profit by 140 per cent to SFr11.6 million ($8.5 million.
Hiestand employs 1,905 people.

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