Within the Swiss fruit and vegetable sector, the Corona pandemic has left deep scars. The catering and hotel sectors in particular have suffered severe sales losses. This has also affected specialized suppliers to the gastronomy sector, such as the Zurich-based Reust AG group of companies. They are now eagerly awaiting the reopening of the catering trade, says Christoph Keller, sales manager at the company.
Just as in neighboring countries, a complete closure of the gastronomy industry has been in effect in Switzerland for months. This means that sales to the restaurant and hotel business are now very minimal. "We now live predominantly from deliveries to old people's homes and hospitals. A possible extension of the current requirements until May is currently being discussed by the Federal Council," Keller says about the current situation.
Christoph Keller is sales manager at Reust Gastro AG.
Left: Some items from the seasonal product selection.
Boom in online and direct marketing
Necessity is also the mother of invention in Switzerland: numerous delivery and pick-up services have been launched to keep sales up. "A drop in the bucket," says Keller. "Shopping behavior in Switzerland has completely changed. Online markets like Farmy, as well as farm stores in the countryside, are experiencing a real boom. Fortunately, we are well represented in this area as well."
According to Keller, a wave of bankruptcies within the Swiss restaurant industry cannot be ruled out in the near future. "Rent prices in Zurich are simply horrendous, and many are in dire financial straits." He sees a similar trend on the supplier side. "Some of our producers are already facing closure. We also work a lot with regional startups, and these businesses in particular usually weren't able to build up a buffer."
The first lettuces are already planted at regional supplier Käser & Co.
As soon as the current lockdown comes to an end, the surviving restaurateurs will be able to hit the ground running, Keller thinks. But community catering will have a more arduous recovery according to the major supplier, because the full return from the home office to the workplace will likely take a bit longer. "Now it's simply a matter of holding on. You can't stand completely still now, as a renowned catering supplier."
The latest vehicle in the Reust vehicle park is waiting for the go-ahead from the Federal Council, as is the entire catering industry.
Regional quality products also in demand in the future
At the product level, the domestic vegetable season is now slowly gaining momentum. The first Swiss eggplants have already been harvested, and wild garlic and lettuces will soon follow. "Specialty products are mainly in demand in the upscale gastronomy, where there is now a logical lack of buyers. At Engrosmarkt, customers are primarily focused on the basic assortment. In the event of a massive wave of cancellations, consumer behavior would change anyway. If you no longer earn anything, it's hard to afford high-quality products. The belt would have to be tightened even more."
Despite the hard times, the dedicated salesman is optimistic about the future. "Regional and high-quality products as well as the service surrounding them will continue to be in demand in the future. Quality simply has its price and, in my view, people will continue to be willing to reward quality accordingly. We also have the advantage of serving a broad customer base across three different divisions. The loyalty and faithfulness of our clientele during the crisis period has surprised us positively."