Interview with David Escher, CEO of Switzerland Cheese Marketing:
Could you briefly explain the mission of Switzerland Cheese Marketing?
Switzerland Cheese Marketing AG (SCM) is a non-profit organisation that operates internationally as a competence centre for Swiss cheese. It is headquartered in Berne (Switzerland) and has representations and branches in the most important export markets, namely Germany, Italy, France, Benelux, Spain and the Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark) as well as the UK and the USA.
SCM provides its shareholders with country-specific services in the areas of marketing (consumers and trade), communication and public relations. It also provides legal, technical and marketing advice and assumes industry-wide coordination tasks.
Which products are promoted?
SCM is the umbrella organisation for the entire cheese industry. All Swiss cheeses are promoted without exception! Our communication is based on two axes: a generic promotion of « Swiss cheeses » and a specific promotion of various flagship products abroad.
What organisation does it depend on?
SCM is a public limited company and the entire Swiss cheese industry is represented in SCM’s shareholding. The shareholders/members are the Swiss Milk Producers (SMP), the association of Swiss cheese artisans (Fromarte), the cheese inter-branch organisations such as the Interprofession du Gruyère, Appenzeller Käse GmbH or Emmentaler Switzerland, to name a few, and trading companies such as Emmi AG or Mifroma AG. Our action, i.e. our marketing activities, are supported by the Confederation up to a maximum of 50% of the costs according to the Ordinance on the promotion of agricultural products sales.
What are its objectives?
We want to establish Swiss cheese among our target groups worldwide as the preferred cheese in the premium segment. We track foreign consumers on an annual basis and can thus analyse the evolution of certain image criteria, such as “naturalness”. An important element is also the propensity to buy, which we want to maximise, the ultimate goal being to increase cheese sales at an attractive price for the entire cheese industry. In which markets are you active? SCM is active in many countries. In all, SCM is present in 28 countries, which covers 98% of the volume of Swiss cheese exported.
What is your assessment of the year 2020? Has the impact of the pandemic been mostly positive or negative for SCM? Which markets were the most dynamic?
Despite the difficult economic conditions due to the coronavirus crisis, the export level of 2019, a record year, was once again exceeded in 2020, reaching a total of 77,124 t (+1.6%) of cheese, processed cheese and ready-to-use fondue exported. The export earnings of the Swiss cheese sector in 2020 (milk producers, cheese makers, refiners and traders) totalled 693.8 million Swiss francs, an increase of 3.9% compared to the same period of the previous year.
About 45% of Swiss milk is processed into more than 700 Swiss cheese specialities, of which around 40% are exported worldwide. With more than 80% of the export volume (62,919 t), Europe is the main market for Swiss cheese. Germany alone imports 32,926 tonnes of Swiss cheese, a good half of the total volume exported to the EU. Next come Italy with 10,533 t and France with 5,839 t.
Classic media, digital media: what is your view on these different means of communication and the way to orchestrate their respective performances? How do you see them evolving in the medium/long term?
The importance of digital marketing tools is growing: by making a huge « word-of-mouth » possible, digital tools allow to address each consumer « individually ». This improves the quality of the interaction. On the other hand, we should be aware that the number of contacts is reduced compared to traditional advertising. The influence of public relations and content marketing is also increasing: classic advertising will decline even more in the next few years, as the consumer’s ability to allocate attention is becoming increasingly limited. It is therefore important to adopt a differentiated approach towards consumers in order to be there when they seek information. With this in mind, content creation, whatever channel it is intended for, will become increasingly important. It will be a question of being present where the consumer is looking for information on Swiss cheese but also, and perhaps primarily, on cheese in general. The links between the virtual and real worlds must be strengthened and the use of a common “look&feel” between analogue and digital tools will contribute to the approach.
What is your outlook for 2021? Do you plan to review some of your strategies, to test new opportunities?
From our point of view, 2021 appears to be a year of transition. Indeed, the pandemic linked to the coronavirus has not finished thwarting our lives, and our lifestyles are strongly impacted. However, the population’s displeasure, the economic and social impacts as well as the vaccination lead us to believe that, little by little, the crisis management will move towards more freedom.
A return to the life before will certainly not be possible, at least in the months to come. What will remain of the experiences lived during this crisis? The population has (re)discovered the virtues of proximity, mutual aid and “home-made”, but what will be left once all the freedom has been regained? Will there be, for example, a catch-up effect on travel and leisure? What will be the economic impact of the crisis on households? We are all faced with great uncertainty about a future where the pandemic will be combined with a slowing economy and social difficulties. In this context, SCM wants to show that Swiss cheese is a source of confidence, a solid pillar that has existed for centuries and can provide some comfort in these tumultuous times. For 2021, we are aware that it will be very difficult to maintain the excellent results of recent years in a very turbulent economic context.Maintaining the current level of exports would already be a great success.
As soon as the health situation allows it, SCM will reactivate its presence at the point of sale in order to be present as close as possible to the act of purchase and to share our common values with consumers.
This year, we will provide retailers with a modular cheese presentation system: depending on their needs and expectations, this system will, for example, allow to present a second point of sale, to organise tastings, to improve one’s knowledge of Swiss cheeses through a competition or to participate in a game with various prizes. The online presence and public relations activities will be strengthened in the coming months. The aim is to raise interest in our cheeses and to make it easy and quick for consumers to find the information they are looking for.
How would you describe your collaboration with Mediamix? What are their main strengths? que vous y identifiez?
"As a client for many years, Mediamix SA has always provided us with first class service, not only in terms of the commercial trinity "quality-quantity-price" ratio, but also in terms of sound media advice to achieve our objectives in various European markets. Mediamix SA is a highly professional human-scale company. ln a word: a true "boutique media agency" always acting in their clients' best interest and specialised in "tailor-made" solutions."