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Rising fortunes revive taste for the high life

Anyone for turkey? (Imagepoint)

Christmas 2006 looks set to be a bumper year for the luxury food and drink market in Switzerland, with caviar and champagne sales benefiting from a buoyant economy.

But it is a different story for the cigar trade, as the growing backlash against smoking continues to bite into its bottom line.

For those selling luxury goods in the Swiss financial capitals of Zurich and Geneva, the run-up to Christmas certainly promises to be one to remember.

Booming profits and resurgent stock markets mean some bankers will be picking up bonuses 10-30 per cent higher than last year, according to some reports.

"The half-year results were much higher than last year and for the full year we can expect similar trends, so obviously the whole [bonus] pool should be higher as well. There should be quite an increase," Zurich Cantonal Bank analyst Andreas Venditti told swissinfo.

Venditti declined to put a figure on how much higher bonuses would be this year but said it was clear there would be more money swimming around. "It's been a great year," he said.

One man who has already spotted a spring in the step of investment bankers is André Peier, director of Caviar House & Prunier Switzerland.

Healthy sales

He says caviar sales are already looking healthy and he expects them to really take off in the days just before Christmas and New Year. Peier is forecasting a ten per cent increase on last year.

"Things have got off to a good start but as usual it will only be just before Christmas that things go crazy. People tend not to buy caviar too far in advance, except when it comes to gifts and here we are well ahead of where we were at the same time last year," he said.

"You clearly feel there is more confidence out there – people are spending more," he said.

To illustrate this, Peier said average takings per person at Caviar House & Prunier's store in Zurich airport were up from SFr90 to SFr110 ($74 to $91).

Unable to guarantee the quality of sturgeon eggs from the Caspian Sea, the bulk of the caviar sold by the company comes from its own fish farms in France.

For the record, a 125g tin of Prunier Tradition caviar sells for SFr427 and a 125g tin of Prunier Paris caviar goes for SFr710.

This season Caviar House & Prunier are also marketing a special edition gift set designed by Yves St Laurent, containing a 250g tin of caviar, a CD of love songs and poems, card and book about caviar – a snip at SFr1,190.

Luxury brands

Jacques Louviot, director of upmarket department store Globus in Geneva, said demand for luxury products and brands had been noticeable last year and showed little sign of abating.

"We have seen a significant increase in sales of fine foods, such as salmon, truffles and foie gras," he said. "I think a lot of this is down to the economy, as well as renewed appetite for the good things in life.

"And it's not just those on big salaries. We've had young people coming in to buy small tins of caviar and half bottles of champagne."

According to a report in the Blick newspaper, Globus's sister store in Zurich expects sales of champagne and fine wine to be up 20 per cent on 2005, which was a record year.

But while some dance a merry jig to the sound of ringing tills, for others it is not a season to be cheerful.

Max Kälin, director of cigar specialists A Durr & Co in Zurich, says sales are stagnant and festive cheer in short supply.

"Until now we have seen no increase in cigar sales. It's becoming harder and harder to smoke in public spaces in Switzerland and this has certainly had an effect on business," he said.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Key facts

The Swiss economy is growing at its fastest rate since 2000.
Last week the central bank raised interest rates by 25 basis points for the fifth quarter running.
It fears continued rapid economic expansion will drive up inflation.

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