Meat, cheese or booze: What do the Swiss spend the most money on?

Feel like you ate more than usual last year? Switzerland spent more than ever on food in 2020 - but what food item took up the biggest slice of the budget?

Meat, cheese or booze: What do the Swiss spend the most money on?
Swiss consumers shops mostly in retail chains. Photo by AFP

Two new studies have shown what foods Swiss consumers like to buy, and which expenses take out the biggest chunk out of their budget.

The food retail in Switzerland achieved a record turnover of almost 30 billion francs in 2020, an increase of more than 11 percent compared to 2019.

This is the finding of in-depth analysis carried out by the Federal Office for Agriculture, which examined expenditures in physical grocery stores, not online purchases.

The main finding: Swiss households spent 7,680 francs on average in 2020 on food and drink. One in 10 francs was spent on organic products.

Consumers showed preference for Swiss agriculture

This is reflected in the amount of money they spent on domestic meat, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables. All of these goods generated a turnover of 10.6 billion francs, the study shows.

The highest single expense in Switzerland was on meat. The average household spent 1,383 francs on meat in 2020. 

The next highest single expense category was, predictably, drinks – with the average Swiss spending 1,237 francs on drinks in 2020. 

MAPS: Which canton is Switzerland's fattest? 

Dairy products made up 1,026 francs while breads and cereals cost the average Swiss 840 francs last year. 

‘Animal products’, that is, meat and eggs, made up 35.6 percent of food expenses, while fruits and vegetables accounted for 13.7 percent.

Most consumers shop in retail chains

Migros, Coop, and other chains generated food sales of 22.9 billion francs or 77 percent of total sales. Discounters like Denner and Aldi totalled 17 percent.

The smallest turnover — 1.8 million francs — was generated by smaller specialty food shops, bakeries, and butchers.

Their share of sales was only 6.1 percent.

Organic produce

Households spent an average of only 820 francs —slightly more than ten percent of total expenditure — to buy organic food. Organic eggs were particularly popular.

READ MORE: Swiss cheese exports swell amid pandemic cooking frenzy 

Regional differences

Interestingly, the study found local preferences for the kind of food being purchased in different regions.

For instance, households in French-speaking Switzerland spent 4 percent of their budget on fish, compared to just 2.1 percent in the Swiss-German part.

Also, households in urban areas bought less meat and milk than those in rural regions. And families with children had higher expenses for meat, while those without children spent more on vegetables and alcohol.

Household budget

Another new study, released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), shows what goods and services take out the biggest chunk of a household budget. 

The biggest expenses — 24.9 percent of overall budget—  are housing and energy, which include rent or mortgage payments, as well as electricity and heating costs.

Next are healthcare insurance (15.6 percent), followed by commuting costs (10.9) and groceries (10.5). All these costs are predicted to increase in 2021.

An earlier FSO study indicated that the average household disposable income in Switzerland is just over 7,000 francs per month. 

READ MORE: What do people in Switzerland spend their money on? 


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Switzerland is not exactly known for innovative cuisine but for hearty and, some say, uninspiring food. But can some of the country’s dishes be qualified as ‘weird’?

You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Unlike its neighbours France and Italy, Switzerland’s culinary tradition is relatively plain.

After all, how many foreigners would actually say “I am going to Switzerland for the food”?

Still, don’t rule out some surprises on the culinary front. Whether you consider these dishes as ‘weird’ or just very unappetising depends mostly on how adventurous you are and how solid your stomach is.

So let’s begin.

The Berner Zungenwurst (Bernese tongue sausage)

Some of the wackiest foods have a regional flavour — literally and figuratively.

One of them is a traditional “tongue sausage” from Bern.

A cookbook from 1835 states that two or three pig tongues should be used as ingredients, along with meat and blood from pork and beef. What’s not to like?

These days, however, the tongue has been phased out, but the name remains. Contemporary cookbooks call for Zungenwurst to be made from pork and beef meat, along with crackling and spices. 

In 2019, Zugenwurst achieves EU protected status, which prevents imitators from reproducing the sausage, unless they do so under a different name.

If you can get over its appearance, you might actually enjoy it.

Photo: Photo: Tamorlan, CC BY-SA 2.5/.

READ MORE: Three things to know about Switzerland’s protected ‘blood tongue sausage’

Saucisse de choux

West of Bern, in Vaud, another sausage reigns: the so-called “cabbage sausage”.

No tongue or blood here; this traditional smoked sausage is made from white cabbage, pork and bacon, and eaten boiled with potatoes and leeks — another typical Vaud dish called “papet”.

According to legend, the origin of this sausage dates back to the year 879, when the family of the Emperor of Germany stayed in the Vaud town of Orbe for several weeks.

As the meat ran out, locals mixed cabbage with the sausage meat to fill the stuffing. The smoking stage appeared in the Middle Ages, when it was realised that by smoking the meat, it could be kept longer.


Unless you grew up eating Marmite in the UK or Vegemite in Australia, it may take you a whIle to develop your taste buds to accept, and actually like, Cenovis —  the dark brown paste made from yeast extract.

This very salty paste is spread on a slice of buttered bread.

READ MORE: Six common myths about Swiss food you need to stop believing

How did this idea originate in the first place?

According to the company website, “it was in the mind of a visionary brewer from the Rheinfelden region in the canton of Basel-Country that the idea of using the precious yeasts from the production of beer germinated”.

Spiny thistle

If you think this plant is unfit for human consumption, Genevans will disagree with you.

That’s because cardon épineux genevois is not only a local specialty, but it is also  the first vegetable to be included in the official Swiss registry of origin.

It can be eaten, for example, as a gratin — grilled with (Swiss) cheese on top — to accompany meat or fish.

First consumed around Europe in the 16th century where it was widely cultivated, these days canton of Geneva is the only place that still produces thorned thistle.

Genevans make a dish out of this plant. Photo by Pixabay

READ MORE: Ten varieties of cheese you should be able to identify if you live in Switzerland


That Switzerland has its own beverage is not in itself unusual (and certainly not weird) — after all, it does have plenty of cheese and chocolate of its own.

What is slightly odd, however, is that this carbonated drink is made from milk whey.

Perhaps it is because Swiss cows produce too much milk and this surplus had to be used somehow — we don’t know. What we do know is that in 1950 two men, Roberth Barth and the biologist Hans Süsli, got together in Zurich and used a recipe initially conceived to produce a whey beer to create a soft drink that tastes a bit like a mixture of ginger ale and bubble tea.

As is the case with Cenovis, you probably have to train your taste buds (or trick them) to like it.

Chestnut paste tarts

To the untrained eye, these little tarts, called vemicelles, look like worms piled on top.

In fact, in Latin “vermiculi” actually means “worms”. But if you can get past the appearance and the name, these pastries are actually quite delicious.

And making them from scratch (rather than buying them ready made) is almost an art form: traditional recipe calls for about half a kilo of chestnuts.

An incision has to be made in each chestnut before boiling. Then, chestnuts should be shelled, simmered with milk and sugar before being pressed through a special machine to create the long “worms” of chestnut paste.

Photo by Robert Patti on Unsplash

Last but not least…cholera!

OK, what is actually weird about this dish is not its content  but the truly off-putting name.

There is a reason for that: this dish was invented during the cholera outbreak in the 1830s when people were scared to leave their homes and made a pie with whatever leftovers they had on hand: potatoes, onion, apples, bacon, leek and cheese.

As far as we know, this is the only food still in existence that was created out of necessity during a health crisis. To this day, there is no dish called Covid (although all of you budding chefs out there may see that as a challenge).