Nestlé celebrates 150 years with museum openings

Swiss food behemoth Nestlé marks its 150th birthday with the opening of two museums in its hometown of Vevey this month.

Nestlé celebrates 150 years with museum openings
The Nest is based in the original Nestlé factory. Photo: Nestlé

New museum Nest takes visitors on a journey through the company’s history, while the renovated Alimentarium is a hands-on exhibition and educational space dedicated to food.

The Alimentarium will be free to the public during an open house weekend on June 4th-5th as it reopens after a 19.8 million franc renovation.

Originally opened in 1985 on the lakefront in Vevey, the Alimentarium was the first in the world to explore food and human nutrition.

A nine-month renovation project has completely redesigned the museum, which now sports a new permanent exhibition, a multilingual digital archive and a ‘Food Academy’ where members of the public can take cooking classes.

Among the museum’s culinary activities, children and teenagers can learn how to cook in daytime and weekend sessions, while adults can sign up for evening classes designed by chef Philippe Ligron, a well-known TV chef and teacher at Lausanne's hospitality school EHL.

Its educational outreach programme includes a website displaying 400 items related to food history in 360-degree high definition, and an online programme for teachers and pupils.

Nestlé's birthplace

Meanwhile, the new the 50 million franc Nest was officially inaugurated on Thursday and will open to the public on June 15th.

Based in the factory in the Bosquets district of Vevey where Henry Nestlé invented his famous Farine Lactée baby formula in 1867, Nest takes visitors on an immersive journey through the company’s history and its products, including Nesquik hot chocolate powder, Nespresso instant coffee and Maggi seasoning.

Described as a discovery centre rather than a museum, its director Catherine Saurais said at the inauguration on Thursday: “The objective isn’t to tell the story for the sake of the story.

“What nest offers is a special way to revisit the meanderings of our own history, to examine the questions surrounding food production in the world today, and to explore a passionate vision of nutrition in an engaging manner.”

Split into four themed parts, Nest’s interactive elements include a body scanner where visitors can learn about the impact of certain foods on the body’s organs.

A huge employer in the area, including many expats, Nestlé is a prominent presence in Vevey.

Stefano Stroll, director of the Festival Images Vevey, said in a statement that the new museum is “an occasion to better understand” the company.

“Although Nestlé stands out here, little is known about this global multinational, which is a mix of tradition and innovation.

“Nest arouses curiosity, whilst explaining and illustrating Nestlé’s major impact on the region.”

In 1867 German pharmacist Henri Nestlé invented Farine Lactée, a baby formula for infants that couldn’t take breast milk, a product that would go on to make the company’s name.

Based in Vevey, his company quickly grew, in 1905 merging with a condensed milk competitor founded in 1866.

Over its long history it has built some of the world’s best known food brands, including Nescafe, Nesquik and Nepresso.

It has also acquired brands including Carnation, Findus frozen foods, Movenpick ice cream and San Pellegrino.

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Will Switzerland be able to feed itself in the future?

Amid a worsening climate crisis and an increasingly unstable world food system, Clare O’Dea looks at what Switzerland and its population need to do to ensure there is enough food on the table in the years to come.

Will Switzerland be able to feed itself in the future?

Faced with a growing global population, the climate crisis and increasingly degraded agricultural land, the challenge of how to feed the world in the near future is one of the burning issues of the day. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a multitude of additional food security problems, contributing to already rising global food prices and rising input costs for agriculture, such as energy and fertilisers. 

Meanwhile, Switzerland’s food self-sufficiency rate is relatively low for Europe at around 50 per cent. The government’s new agriculture strategy for 2050 has set the seemingly modest goal of maintaining that level.

The 79-page strategy document, like most such publications, does not look beyond 2050. But this is just the point when climate change and increasing demand for food are expected to intensify.

Should we be alarmed?

One thing the Covid-19 pandemic showed was that not all countries are equally affected by a global crisis. Money is usually the main protection against disaster, but leadership, preparedness, and the ability and willingness to respond quickly are also important. 

For domestic food production over the next two to three decades, hope still rests on two main pillars – boosting productivity in a sustainable way, and changing consumer behaviour. There’s not much else that can be done. 

EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland’s inflation has rate stayed low compared to elsewhere?

The bad news is that the Swiss population is not eating a well-balanced diet and the average intake of calories is too high.

People are not eating enough dairy products, pulses, fruit and vegetables and consuming too much meat, sweet things and alcohol. 

We all know this.

But did you know how harmful this love affair with our stomachs is? The strategy document spells it out: “The environmental impact of consumption could be halved if people adopted a healthy diet, based on the nutritional recommendations.”

With a different portfolio of food grown in Switzerland corresponding to a healthier diet, the self-sufficiency rate would increase too. Consumer behaviour is changing but not radically or quickly enough. It’s hard to see the harm being reduced without enforced measures of some kind. 

READ MORE: Seven products that are becoming more expensive in Switzerland

Another crying shame of our food system and lifestyle is that a third of the food produced by farmers ends up being wasted between field and fork. All that energy, money and ecological impact for nothing. 

Although food self-sufficiency carries its own risks – vulnerability to local shocks, extra pressure on the environment – being too reliant on imports is not ideal. Overall, the EU is a net food exporter. But the Swiss government has made it clear that Switzerland will continue to rely significantly on imports for the foreseeable future. 

One simple reason is the limited availability of agricultural land. Currently 36 per cent of Switzerland’s land surface is given over to agricultural production and pasture. Farmers have to compete with growing urbanisation and, of course, the non-negotiable presence of the mountains that cover 60 per cent of the land’s surface.

During the Covid-19 pandemic we saw that money can, up to a point, buy you health. Switzerland nabbed so many of the globally available vaccines that it has had to donate or destroy surplus. Money can also buy you food, and this, along with proximity to supply, puts Switzerland is a rather secure position. 

In fact, Switzerland came fifth out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index which considers the issues of food affordability, availability and quality, as well as natural resource and resilience. By which we could conclude that everything is under control. 

The victims of this year’s global food crisis – the 323 million people who will become acutely food insecure, according to the UN – live in the countries that routinely appear at the bottom of such indexes. 

Nevertheless, according to the Swiss agricultural research body Agroscope, we should not feel a false sense of security. Apart from dependence on foreign countries and climate change, power supply is one of the key threats to Swiss food supply. 

In its latest annual assessment of threats to food supply, Agroscope wrote that the probability of and the potential damage from a serious power shortage are particularly high compared to other risks. “Supplies of vital foodstuffs would be massively affected, the effects would be manifold, and would not be overcome quickly.”

If the worst comes to the worst, Switzerland stockpiles compulsory stocks of essential goods for bridging in case of crisis and shortages. Mandatory storage facilities around the country hold three to four months’ worth of basic foodstuffs like sugar, rice, cooking oils, cereals and animal feed. 

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Is that reassuring? Three months doesn’t feel like a lot.

These stocks are only released when the economy itself is no longer able to satisfy demand. In any case, Agroscope says “household emergency stocks are of great importance”.

I don’t know about you, but I’m off to the supermarket.