When you go grocery shopping, do you prefer one supermarket over another? Every time I move to a new city, I eventually find a favorite place to shop for my weekly essentials, and moving to Zurich was no exception.
In Switzerland, two mega-companies vie for the support and loyalty of every Swiss household. They are Coop and Migros. Established as the Union Suisse des Sociétés de Consommation (USC) in 1890, Coop has an undeniably long history in the land of the square red flag. However, I believe that Migros has an interesting – and somewhat unusual – story that is worth telling. In fact, I often share The Story of Migros on my tours with Free Walk Zurich. Today, I want to share it with you!
Almost a century ago, Zürich resident Gottlieb Duttweiler founded Migros, a company that has had a far reaching impact on the landscape of Swiss business and society. Duttweiler was passionate about giving all Swiss citizens equal access to opportunities to live a healthy, cultured, and well-educated life. To launch his career and his company, Duttweiler began with a simple idea: sell goods at cheaper prices and deliver them to the people.
So, out rolled the Migros vans in 1925, which carried basic supplies – such as coffee, rice, sugar, noodles, and soap – all throughout the villages surrounding Zurich. In addition to delivering necessities to more remote locations, Duttweiler realized that he could cut costs for consumers by eliminating the middleman from the supply chain. Migros prices dropped well below competitors – as much as 40%! When producers decided to boycott Migros in protest, Duttweiler shrugged his shoulders and decided it was time to get in the manufacturing business. As a result of his no-holds-barred attitude, today the industrial group of Migros, appropriately titled M-Industry, makes over 20,000 different products!
As the years progressed, so did Migros. The first Migros storefront opened in Zürich in 1926, and consequently other stores began to pop up across Switzerland. Duttweiler continued to push the company to new heights and greater depths. In 1942, the supermarket chain launched Migros Magazine (originally called Wir Brückenbauer). Throughout the 1950s, even more enterprises opened under the Migros name: restaurants, gas stations, language schools, banks, and even an insurance company.
But for all his entrepreneurial endeavors, Duttweiler wasn’t just a businessman. He was a philanthropist, too. His tireless efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone endeared Duttweiler, nicknamed “Dutti,” to the Swiss community.
Dutti’s first step of solidarity with the people was to give away his rights to the successful company. In 1941, Duttweiler sold Migros and fashioned the company into a cooperative enterprise. Today, over 2 million people share ownership of Switzerland’s largest retailer. In addition to this unconventional business decision, Duttweiler established what is now called the Migros Cultural Percentage, an initiative that reserves 2% of Migros’ annual profits to sponsor cultural, educational and social projects. Since the 1940s, the Migros corporation has positioned itself to play a prominent role in Swiss society by sponsoring a variety of events, exhibitions, and public benefits – such as theatrical performances, nature parks, and educational courses.
Although Gottlieb Duttweiler passed away in 1962 at the age of 74, his spirit lives on through the Swiss Migros Group, an international conglomerate that does so much more than sell groceries and manufacture products. Undeniably, “The Orange Giant” is an inextricable part of the life for many Swiss families.
And thanks to Dutti’s vision for an egalitarian and cultured Swiss society, you, too, can be a part of his legacy by paying a visit to the Migros Contemporary Art Museum, a center of creativity housed inside a renovated historic building in the trendy ZuriWest neighborhood.
So, when you find yourself in Zurich – whether in summer or in winter – come and join me on my walking tour to witness first hand how a grocery store can become bigger than itself!
Grüetzi mitenand! What do you think about this Swiss company? About Duttweiler’s business endeavors? Have you ever heard of a grocery store owning a contemporary art museum? If you live in Switzerland, are you a Migros-person or do you prefer to shop with the competitor, Coop?
– Images for this post were borrowed from Migros Magazin and Mousse Magazine.
– Another version of this article is published on the Free Walk Zurich blog. Creative ownership belongs to Global Heartbeat.
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