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COST OF LIVING

EXPLAINED: The real reason Swiss supermarket Migros doesn’t sell alcohol

Swiss supermarket Migros has never sold alcohol or tobacco since being founded almost 100 years ago. Here's why.

The familiar orange sign of Swiss supermarket Migros.
Swiss supermarket Migros doesn't sell alcohol. Why is this and what does it mean for the future. Photo:Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Migros was founded in 1925 by Swiss businessman Gottlieb Duttweiler.

One of the founding principles of the organisation was that the health of customers was paramount – and as a result, outlets would not sell alcohol or cigarettes.

Almost 100 years later and despite significant expansion across the country, Migros outlets still uphold this core promise – although things look set to change from June 2022 (or more likely the start of 2023), as we outlined here

However, there’s a little more to Duttweiler’s stance than a pure dedication to the health of his customers. 

In reality, the supermarket’s refusal to sell alcohol has more to do with marketing and good business sense than genuine concern about his customers’ health. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Why Migros doesn’t sell alcohol, according to Migros

Despite being one of Switzerland’s most prominent and successful supermarkets and arguably one of its most prominent brands, Migros’ identity is grounded in community values rather than just the pursuit of profit. 

After Duttweiler created the company 100 years ago, he sold food to workers at lower prices and launched a program which promoted cultural diversity

He also gave female members the right to vote at cooperative meetings, which was quite an advance at the time considering women could not vote federally in Switzerland until 1971 (and until 1990 in all cantons). 

EXPLAINED: What happened after Swiss women got the right to vote in 1971?

Another aspect of this social pledge was a promise not to sell alcohol or tobacco in any of its stores – a pledge that it has kept until this day, although alcohol is available with the company’s subsidiaries Denner, Migrolino, Alnatura and Voi, as well as online. 

But why did it really happen? 

Swiss tabloid Blick this week delved into the company’s history, showing that the company’s founder had an eye on appealing to Switzerland’s puritanical consumers when putting the ban in place. 

In 1928, Duttweiler took over a cider brewery on the verge of bankruptcy in Meilen, on the shores of Lake Zurich. 

While Duttweiler’s initial plan was to add another production plant to help his expanding business, he noticed that the founders had a special pledge of upholding public health “against excessive consumption of cheap brandy and fruit schnapps”. 

Finding himself in debt and in “urgent need of money”, as Blick writes, Duttweiler sees a market opportunity by taking the fight to the “popular drug alcohol”, which was increasingly demonised on both sides of the Atlantic. 

By “making a virtue out of necessity”, Duttweiler – a man who was not averse to a good glass of wine or a cigar, as Blick writes – lay down battle lines, pitting “isolated, lone Migros against the colossi of alcohol capital and the food industry” as he actually said in Brücke magazine at the time. 

The rhetoric caught on and Swiss consumers flocked to Migros, allowing it to grow into what is now the country’s major supermarket. 

Will this change? 

Former Migros CEO Mario Bonorand told Swiss media earlier in 2021 that the company could make an additional CHF2 billion if it decided to sell alcohol in its stores. 

Migros will hold its delegate assembly in November and is set to vote on whether or not to keep the ban in place.

READ MORE: Is Swiss supermarket Migros about to start selling alcohol and cigarettes?

Migros spokeswoman Christina Maurer told 20 Minutes that several Migros stores want to start selling alcohol and tobacco.

“Many delegates have raise the issue recently” Maurer said.

In order to allow the sale of alcohol and tobacco, the delegates would need to vote to change the underlying rules drawn up by Duttweiler so long ago.

Maurer said she would consider the issue “through a democratic ballot of all members of the cooperative”. This will take place in June 2022, with each of the company’s ten regional collectives voting on the matter. 

Some on social media spoke out against the change and said it represented a departure from the organisations core values for profit.

Others however point out that it is not the first time the company has made money from selling booze and smokes.

Migros subsidiaries Migrolino and Denner both sell alcohol and cigarettes, while Migros itself currently sells alcohol and tobacco via the internet under the Le Shop banner.

In fact, the Luzerner Zeitung reported in June 2021 that there are so many loopholes to Migros’ position, that it is difficult to argue the company remains consistent with the pledge of its founder. 

“The retailer has now moved far away from its self-imposed alcohol ban. Migros eagerly looks for loopholes, repeatedly approaches the topic and ultimately lies to herself.”

“Because wine, beer and schnapps have long been on the shelves of the group, with the subsidiaries Denner, Migrolino, Alnatura and Voi. The branches of the discount subsidiary Denner are conveniently often right next to a Migros and are not stingy with their high-priced range.”

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QUALITY OF LIFE

ANALYSIS: Is the quality of life really that high in Switzerland?

Switzerland, as well as some of its cities, regularly appear in international surveys among the nations with the highest quality of life. Why is this so?

ANALYSIS: Is the quality of life really that high in Switzerland?

In its annual ranking of 85 nations, US News & World Report has placed Switzerland in top position, based on 73 different criteria.

While it did not come up tops in all of the categories, Switzerland did sufficiently well in others to get an overall high score, as well as high scores in several individual categories.

In terms of quality of life, Switzerland ranks fourth, but it got high scores across nearly all the sub-categories. This is where the country ranks best — and not so good.

READ MORE: Switzerland ranked ‘best country’ in the world

Political stability (100 points out of 100)

Nobody can argue that Switzerland merits to get such high marks in this category.

The country has not been involved in any wars, unrests or upheavals in recent history, protected in large part by its neutrality and pacifism.

It is also politically stable from within, with well established democratic processes — such as referendums — providing security against abuses of power.

Economically stable  (100)

Switzerland’s economy has withstood the Covid crisis far better than many other countries, and continues to be strong, partly due to an inflation rate that is far lower than in eurozone nations.

The reason is that Switzerland “combines world class governance with high levels of social capital and high social resilience. It also had strong financial systems, manageable debt levels and good health system resilience”. 

READ MORE: Swiss post-Covid economic recovery ‘fourth best in the world’

Safety

Various surveys have shown that Switzerland is among the top-10 safest countries in the world, and one even rated it the safest in 2022.

This is not to say that there is no crime in Switzerland, but the rate, especially of violent infractions, is relatively low in comparison to other countries.

Even large cities, though more risky than small towns and rural areas, are not crime-ridden.

READ MORE: Switzerland ranked one of the world’s ‘safest countries’

A good job market (92.2)

Switzerland’s unemployment rate has been lower than in many other countries for decades, and it recovered quicker than others from the slowdown that occurred during the pandemic.

Currently, the unemployment is 2.1 percent, versus 6.6 percent across the EU.

There are now 15.6 percent more job vacancies in most industries than at the same time in 2021.

Family-friendly (85.4)

Parents of small children who are trying to find affordable daycare in Switzerland may disagree with this assessment, as these services are expensive and good facilities may be hard to find.

However, there are plenty plenty of benefits for children and families as well.

According to The Local’s reader survey, Switzerland offers an abundance of outdoor activities, the children are safe — whether playing outside or walking to school — and both good healthcare and education system are a plus as well.

Income equality (85.2)

In this category, Switzerland is in the 5th place in the US News & World Report survey, right after the Scandinavian countries.

While there is data showing that  gender gap exists when it comes to pay, a study by the Federal Statistical Office shows that income distribution (between the highest and lowest earners) is fairer in Switzerland than in many other nations.

Public health system (84.7)

Although very expensive with costs increasing each year, in terms of quality and access to care Switzerland’s system is among the best in the world.

Like much of the European Union, Switzerland has a universal health system. However, The system here is fundamentally different in that it is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage and purchase it from one of dozens of private carriers.

The system is generally efficient, has an extensive network of doctors, as well as well-equipped hospitals and clinics.

Patients are free to choose their own doctor and usually have unlimited access to specialists. Waiting lists for medical treatments are relatively short.

READ MORE: How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Public education system

Switzerland has 12 publicly funded universities (10 cantonal universities and two federal institutes of technology), and a number of public Universities of Applied Sciences.

According to The QS World University Rankings, “Switzerland has the “third best university system in the world”.

The country also excels in vocational training —a three-year, dual-track programme that includes two days in a vocational school and three days getting an on-the-job training in their chosen sector (the so-called apprenticeships).

It includes a variety of fields such as business and commercial, administration, retail, tourism, construction, information technology, arts, wellness services, as well as various trades — in all, 230 professions.

This programme  “enjoys very strong support from Swiss employers, who credit it with being a major contributor to the continuing vitality and strength of the Swiss economy”

READ MORE: Why is vocational training so popular in Switzerland and how much can I earn?

These aspects all contribute to the high score Switzerland obtained for its quality of living.

Not great for affordability

However, there is one negative category in the ranking as well, and it is not difficult to guess what it is: affordability, in which Switzerland’s score is…2.7.

It comes as no surprise to anyone living here (and a shock to tourists and new arrivals) that Switzerland’s cost of living is among the highest in the world, and especially in the country’s two largest cities, Zurich and Geneva.

Everything from food and clothing to housing and public transportation is more expensive than in the EU, with the exception of electronics and lower taxes.

However, there is also another way to look at this phenomenon: that Swiss salaries, which are higher here than in the eurozone, and low inflation rate, offset the prices.

READ MORE: Do wages in Switzerland make up for the high cost of living?
 
 
 

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