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Jörg Friedli and Bernhard Hug on the development of the frozen vegetable category and the private label welFRIeeze:

"Clearly, our flagship product is Swiss frozen Brussels sprouts"

Despite the strong gains in the fresh convenience sector, frozen fruits and vegetables continue to enjoy particular popularity in the DACH region. In Switzerland too, frozen food holds a significant place, not only in retail but also in the gastronomy sector. To strengthen the regional offerings, the two brothers-in-law Jörg Friedli, a vegetable producer in Aargau and owner of the eponymous company, and Bernhard Hug, managing director of trading company Ernst Welti AG, decided a few years ago to launch their own brand named welFRIeeze for high-quality, regional frozen vegetables. In the cantons of Zurich, Zug, Lucerne, and Aargau, the concept has already made significant waves, confirm the two initiators upon request.

Immediately after harvest, the vegetables are prepared at Friedli's farm and then delivered to the Frigemo AG's frozen food production facility located two kilometers away. There, the raw goods are flash-frozen, further processed, and finally packed as nutrient-rich frozen vegetables in 2x2.5kg cartons. The product is marketed by the two companies, Friedli Gemüse and Ernst Welti AG, on their own. "Currently, we offer beans, peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts under our own brand. Across all products, our main goal is to create maximum value in our own operation," says Friedli. Since the vegetable products are harvested seasonally, the frozen goods are pre-produced as much as possible for the next 1-1.5 years. "Depending on the yield, we try to produce not just to meet demand but a bit more, so we can also compensate for any potential harvest declines in the following year."

Concept hits the zeitgeist
The main customers for the welFRIeeze range are the gastronomy sector, continues Friedli. Due to the shortage of labor in many kitchens, there is an increased reliance on ready-to-use vegetables, which in terms of quality and vitamins are in no way inferior to fresh produce. "In this respect, we are hitting the zeitgeist with our regional frozen vegetables. Unfortunately, this also leads to many trying to copy our concept."

Rising demand for frozen Brussels sprouts
In addition to the already established vegetable crops such as lettuce, beans, and broccoli, Friedli has been dedicating himself to the cultivation of Brussels sprouts for the past three years. By now, this vegetable, especially popular in the Netherlands and Belgium, is grown on a total of 16 hectares. "About 80 percent of our Brussels sprouts are ultimately marketed as frozen vegetables. However, in the past season, due to waterlogging, we had a below-average net yield of about 16 tons/ha with an extremely high proportion of undersized products, totaling around 30 percent loss, although the quality was good. Frigemo accepted the standard sorting 24/32. For our own brand, we opted for the sorting 18/22, froze, and marketed it. This allowed us to achieve better value with Brussels sprouts. Less loss, allowing the customer to have a shorter cooking time and to serve a higher number of pieces on the plate - a win-win situation for all parties. Interestingly, this was very well received, and the gastronomy sector now wants almost nothing else."

The dedicated team behind the successful WelFRIeeze brand with Jörg Friedli (2nd from left) and Bernhard Hug (2nd from right).

Transparency as added value
Bernhard Hug from Ernst Welti AG agrees with his brother-in-law and business partner. "The demand for frozen products is rising, which is certainly also due to the personnel situation in the gastronomy sector. Certain frozen products are certainly also predestined for use in the kitchen, for example, Brussels sprouts or beans, which bring an enormous time-saving in the kitchen and in terms of quality are in no way inferior to fresh products. Clearly, our flagship product is frozen Brussels sprouts, as with this product we have a unique selling proposition here in Switzerland. No other provider markets Swiss frozen Brussels sprouts, only foreign Brussels sprouts. Accordingly, we are particularly proud of this item."

The sales share of welFRIeeze products is currently at 25 percent of the total frozen vegetable sales of Ernst Welti AG, with an upward trend. The customer feedback regarding quality has been particularly positive so far, says Hug. "Price-wise, we certainly can't compete with European or Chinese products, as the personnel and processing costs in Switzerland are much higher. However, the welFRIeeze brand does not position itself in the market as a low-price line, but as a high-quality product. However, we are absolutely competitive with domestic products compared to large-scale industry. The added value of our own brand clearly lies in the transparency of the producers behind the products. The regional origin and the faces behind this brand are appreciated by our customers. This makes the customer willing to pay a certain premium, but they know exactly from whom and where the product comes. We are also convinced that the growth potential has not yet been fully exploited."

For more information:
Jörg Friedli
Moosweg 2
5512 Wohlenschwil
Tel: +41 (0)56 491 16 46
[email protected]

Bernhard Hug
Ernst Welti AG
Früchte und Gemüse en gros
Aargauerstrasse 1b
8048 Zürich
Tel: +41 (0)43 222 55 55
[email protected]

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