In Switzerland, two mega-companies vie for the support and loyalty of every Swiss household: 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 created a company that has had a far-reaching impact on the landscape of Swiss business and society: MIGROS. Duttweiler was passionate about giving all Swiss citizens equal access to opportunities to live a healthy, well-educated life. His first idea was to sell goods at cheaper prices and deliver those goods 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 launched his company into a journey of manufacturing its own brand of products. Nowadays, M-Industry, the industrial group of Migros, makes over 20,000 different products!
Duttweiler opened the first Migros storefront in Zürich in 1926, and consequently other stores began to pop up across Switzerland. As the years progressed, so did Migros as 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 Duttweiler wasn’t just a businessman. He was a philanthropist, too, and his work for the community endeared “Dutti” to the public.
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 mega-company has positioned itself to play a prominent role in Swiss society by sponsoring 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 can visit the Migros Contemporary Art Museum in a renovated historic building located in Zurich’s trendiest neighborhood.
So, join me on my walking tour in ZuriWest and see for yourself the legacy of a Swiss legend.
Hailey Domeck, Free Walk Zurich Guide and Travel Blogger (www.globalheartbeat.co)