From warehouse to brainhouse. We are changing from a products-oriented to a service-oriented and Internet-supported food-trading company and are gearing our services systematically to our customers. We work consistently on improving the efficiency of our processes and on developing and exchanging know-how. We see ourselves as a learning organization. Partnership is our business. Partnership exists if all those involved in a transaction can derive a concrete benefit from it. This attitude characterizes both cooperation with our employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders as well as our resolve to enter into alliances and to cultivate them--at both the local and international level--regardless of size.
Bon Appetit Holding AG is the leading publicly listed food trade company in Switzerland. Bon Appetit acts as a holding company active in three primary areas: Retail Services; Logistics Services; and Catering Services. Bon Appetit operates as a retailer with supermarket and hypermarket group Magro, which operates in French-speaking Switzerland with eight hypermarkets and five supermarkets; Pick Pay, a network of brand-name discount stores; and Frimago, which markets and franchises a network of more than 2,000 convenience stores under brands Visavis and Primo. Retail services accounted for 37 percent of the group's sales of CHF 3.2 billion ($2 billion) in 2001. Catering Services represented 40 percent of sales and operates as two primary divisions: Cash and Carry and Wholesale Catering Services and Wholesale Catering Supplies. Subsidiaries in these divisions include Prodega Ltd., which operates 16 cash and carry stores under the Prodega name and three stores under the Growa name. Prodega also oversees the catering supplies operations under the Howeg and Hugo Dubno brand names. Since 2001, the company has extended its catering supplies activities to France through the Aldis Service Plus joint-venture with German retailing giant Metro. Logistics Services, contributing 40 percent of Bon Appetit's revenues, is carried out by subsidiary Usego, Switzerland's leading provider of logistics and distribution services for food and "near-food" products for more than 4,200 retailers, including members of the Bon Appetit network and third-party retailers, in Switzerland. Formed through a series of mergers, Bon Appetit Group expects to top CHF 5 billion in sales by 2003. The company is led by CEO Beat Curti and chairman Mario Fontana and is listed on the Swiss Stock Exchange.
Wholesale Food Innovators in the 1960s
The origins of Bon Appetit Holdings lay in the mid-1960s, when Hans-Edi Curti and Pierre Grandjean, both operators of wholesale food businesses, joined with Heinz Wehrli, a wine and spirits wholesaler, to found Pro Detailhandel und Gastgewerbe (Pro Retail Trade and Catering)--or Prodega, in 1965. Prodega started out as an innovator, introducing the "cash and carry" concept to the Swiss bulk products marketplace. Prodega opened its first store in a rented building in Schönbuhl that year, targeting small and mid-sized catering and retail branch customers. By 1968, the company moved to a new, self-built store in Moosseedorf, which also became the location for the company's headquarters.
The success of the cash and carry formula quickly attracted others. In 1970, a new store opened in Langenthal, near Berne, under the name Cash + Carry, owned by wholesaler group Growa Lebensmittel AG, itself founded in 1967 to supply the VeGe supermarket chain. Another company, Gromerco, itself part of the Usego wholesale group, had started up a similarly named chain of stores, Cash & Carry. By then, the Curti family had launched a new store and company under the name C-C Legromarkt.
In 1979, Prodega, Gromerco and the C-C Legromarkt merged to form Prodega Cash & Carry. Into the early 1980s, the newly enlarged group's five stores were reorganized under a single, unified management, which then carried out an extensive modernization program, including renovating the stores and redefining its operations. Prodega Cash & Carry then began opening new stores, in Dübendorf, Heimberg, and Chur. With eight stores in operation by the mid-1980s, and a 30 percent market share, Prodega Cash & Carry was able to claim market leadership of this segment in Switzerland.
Building on this position, Prodega Cash & Carry went public in 1986. The company acquired a new cash and carry business, CC Market Liga, operating in Basel that same year. The company's network now covered much of German-speaking Switzerland. In 1989, Prodega grew again when it acquired Growa Lebensmittel AG, which by then had added two more stores, in Bellach and Emmenmatt. Under Prodega, the new subsidiary was renamed Growa Ltd. and converted into a wholesales supplies business. The three Growa stores were then placed under the oversight of the Prodega Cash & Carry network stores. The Growa stores were later developed into a separate brand concept, offering a more limited range and smaller stores than the Prodega stores.
Expansion in the 1990s
Prodega began redeveloping its store format at the beginning of the 1990s, introducing design concepts borrowed from the traditional supermarket circuit to enhance the appeal of its stores to its customers. The company opened two new stores featuring the new store design in 1990 in Biel and Rotkreuz before refitting the rest of the Prodega chain. The Rotkreuz chain had replaced the company's store at Hünenberg; in 1992, Prodega replaced another of its smaller, older stores, at Emmenbrücke, with a larger facility in Kriens. That year the company opened another Prodega market, in Reinach. At the same time, its Growa network expanded with a new and larger store at Rupperswil. Then, in 1993, the company moved into western Switzerland with the opening of a Prodega market in the Givisiez.
Not content with merely adding to its network of stores, Prodega began looking for other expansion opportunities in the early 1990s. The first of these came in 1993 when the company acquired two wholesale supply businesses, Howeg-Planteurs Réunis in Switzerland (majority owned by another Curti family business, Hofer & Curti), which soon after became Usego-Hofer-Curti or UHC), and Ewoco, based in France, which also operated its own cash and carry markets. This move enabled Prodega to diversify its offering, adding the wholesale supply delivery and logistics to its cash and carry operations. Ewoco also gave the company its first international operations.
Prodega added new stores in the mid-1990s. In 1995, the company transferred the Rupperswil store to the Prodega brand as it redeveloped the Growa brand to focus on smaller stores and a more limited range than the 15,000 items typically found in a Prodega market. In 1996, a new Prodega opened in Rüschlikon and the following year the company added its seventeenth store, a Prodega market, in Dietikon. The company continued its remodeling program as well as adding new technology. The Dietikon store, for example, claimed to be the first store in Europe to offer self-scanning bays.
In 1998, Prodega added a new market, in Crissier, near Lausanne, making the company the dominant player in French-speaking Switzerland's retail and catering supply market. Prodega then acquired Schweizerische Speisewagen-Gesellschaft (SSG), giving the company a new area of operations. SSG was founded in 1902 and had grown into Switzerland's leading transport catering company, providing mini-bar and dining services for railroad cars and stations, roadside service stations, airports, shopping malls, and cruise and tourist ships. This acquisition prompted Prodega to change its name, and in 1998, the company became Bon Appetit Holding AG.
Merging for Leadership in the 21st Century
Prodega was not the only business interest of the Curti family. In 1982, the Curti families and Hofer families, linked together as Hofer & Curti AG, acquired rising retail group Pick Pay, which had been launched in the Zurich area in 1968 and had grown into a network of 20 shops in Basel, St-Gall, and Zurich by the early 1980s. Under Hofer & Curti, Pick Pay went public in 1986, then moved into French-speaking Switzerland under the Soroma SA name.
By 1995, the Curti and Hofer families had built Pick Pay into a chain of 100 retail stores. At that time, Hofer & Curti had also begun acquiring a stake in another group, Usego-Trimerco Holding, a company which traced its origins to the cooperative movement of the turn of the 20th century. In 1907, a new cooperative was founded in Lucerne, then three years later moved to the town of Olten and changed its name to Usego (Union Schweizerische Einkaufs-Gesellschaft Olten). After expanding into several other towns through the mid-1960s, Usego changed its status, from cooperative to limited liability company in 1969. Two years later, Usego merged with another company, Waro AG, and changed its name to UTH (Usego Trimerco Holding).
Reorganized in 1977, UTH now separated its operations into two main bodies: Usego, which became the company's wholesale division, and Waro, which operated UTH's retail division. UTH went public in 1984, fought off a hostile takeover in 1985, but finally was forced to open its shareholding to new investors, including Hofer & Curti by 1990. In 1992, UTH inaugurated two new marketing franchises, Primo and Visavis, offering wholesale services to the convenience foods sector. These brand names took over for several networks of independently operated stores, including the Usego, Monamigo, and Famila franchise networks.
Hofer & Curti meanwhile gained control of UTH. This occurred following a transaction in 1994 that exchanged another company's shares in UTH for UTH's Waro AG division. Afterward, UTH focused on the wholesale trade. UTH was then merged with Pick Pay and changed its name to UHC (Usego Hofer Curti) in 1996.
The Curti family had become the majority shareholder of UHC and began preparing to merge its two businesses, Bon Appetit and UHC. The Hofer family at last agreed to back the merger in 1999, and UHC was brought under the Bon Appetit group, creating a company with revenues of more than CHF 3.3 billion and nearly 7,000 employees. Usego became the group's wholesale supplies business, while Bon Appetit took over its expanded retail section. Although still small in comparison with Swiss retail giants Migros and Coop--neither publicly listed--Bon Appetit nonetheless was able to claim the position of the country's leading publicly listed food services group.
The enlarged group now turned its focus to the future, adopting a new strategy aimed to transform itself from a product-oriented group to a group providing services to its key target markets as reflected in Bon Appetit's new motto: "From warehouse to brainhouse." The company also added e-commerce initiatives, notably taking a stake in leading online retailer LeShop.ch as well as forming a partnership with net-tissimo.com. At the same time, Bon Appetit continued to expand its store network, opening a new Prodega store in St.-Blaise, in the Neufchatel canton, at the beginning of 2000. Meanwhile, in France, the company formed the Aldis Service Plus 50-50 joint-venture with Germany's Metro AG, which took over the former Ewoco operations in that country.
In 2001, Bon Appetit expanded again, forming a partnership with Starbucks Inc. to acquire the exclusive franchise in Switzerland and Austria to develop the Starbucks coffeehouse chain in those countries. The first Starbucks opened in Switzerland in July 2001, and that highly successful opening quickly led the network to expanding to five outlets by the end of the year. In December 2001, Bon Appetit opened its first Starbucks in Austria, in the city of Vienna. With the prospect of further Starbucks openings--and the possibility of extending its license elsewhere in Europe--Bon Appetit was able to forecast a nearly doubling of its revenues, to CHF 5 billion, by 2005.
Principal Subsidiaries: Prodega Ltd.; Austrian Star Gastronomie GmbH; Magro; Pick Pay; Swiss-Star Ltd. (50%); Aldis Services Plus (50%); Usego AG.
Principal Divisions: Retail Services; Catering Services; Logistics Services.
Principal Competitors: Metro Holding AG; Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund; Coop Schweiz Genossenschaftsverband.