Roland Murten A.G. History
Telephone: 037 72 11 45
Fax: (0) 37 71 25 02
Sales: SFr51.3 billion (US$32.38 billion)
SICs: 2051 Bread, Cake, and Related Products; 2052 Cookies and Crackers; 5141 Groceries--General Line; 5149 Groceries and Related Products, Nec
As the manufacturer of Zwieback and brand name pains croustillants, Roland Murten is a household name throughout Switzerland and parts of Germany. Specializing in bread products with a long shelf life, Roland Murten has built a solid industry with a few popular staple products.
Two thirds of Roland's employees are production workers based in factories in Morat and Avenches. There are 28 representatives in charge of product promotion in all of Switzerland. Roland's products also sell well in Japan, Germany, and 40 other countries. Since 1978, Roland has been a subsidiary of Sandoz Alimentation SA. This is a division of food-product subsidiaries held by Sandoz A.G., a large chemical company based in Basel.
Although Switzerland is able to meet less than half of the domestic demand for grain--only about half of the country's land is available for farming, and of that, nearly 60 percent is fodder crops and grazing areas for the country's dairy and beef industries--Roland Murten uses domestic ingredients from the region as much as possible. In addition, to bake the pain croustillant, only the quantity of flour or meal necessary for the day's production is ground, which also helps to preserve vitamins and minerals.
The firm was founded in 1938 by Leopold Schoffler. At that time, Schoffler was a specialist in baked goods and was very well known for his innovations in the domain of products with a long shelf life. Schoffler's work in this regard was the catalyst for a whole new product line and related industries in Northern Europe and in Germany.
The 1930s were a tumultuous time in Switzerland's history. Though the small, mountainous country, bordered by France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Liechtenstein, is famed for its tradition of neutrality and its role as guardian of Europe's trans-Alpine routes, this did not insulate Switzerland from world market fluctuations. The Great Depression did have an impact on the country, though the results were less severe than they were for Switzerland's neighbors. It was during this time that Schoffler set about choosing a spot for his new enterprise.
The town of Murten/Morat, situated near the French and German borders--hence the two versions of the city's name--in the canton of Fribourg, seemed the ideal place. At that time, Fribourg was an economically distressed district with a relatively large reservoir of workers. In addition, Murten/Morat was located in the center of a region that already produced rye bread and its related ingredients, so goods could be delivered from the surrounding countryside directly to the company's mill. A factory for Schoffler's proposed product line of crusty breads would fit in well.
The firm got its name from Schoffler's fondness for knights, combined with his desire to find a name that was somewhat whimsical, as well as easy to pronounce in both French and German. Although only one-fifth of Switzerland's population is French-speaking while two-thirds is German-speaking, the location of the firm necessitated a fluently bilingual name and identity. As Schoffler was inspired by the legend of the knight Roland, he decided to combine Roland with the name of the town. Thus the French version of the company's name is Roland Morat SA, and the German version is Roland Murten AG. The company's well-known logo depicts a knight standing within the outline of a castle.
The first line of production--initially only pains croustillants, or crusty, dry breads similar to the Melba Toast sold in the United States--was manufactured in 1939, the same year that Adolf Hitler and his forces occupied Czechoslovakia and invaded Poland. Soon World War II was consuming the continent, and times became difficult for the fledgling enterprise. Though Switzerland was neutral during the war, it did mobilize troops for border defense, and the economies of its neighbors, Germany, France, and Italy were disrupted. In addition, what had initially been an ideal location for the young company was becoming increasingly precarious. Situated as it was so close to the German border, the effects of pro-German propaganda flooding that region of the country after the fall of France were becoming increasingly apparent. For a time, there was serious division within Switzerland, as well as great economic difficulties.
Despite these problems, Schoffler and Roland's various investors struggled on, even producing the first line of Zwieback, which resembled Swedish crackers, in 1941. Pain croustillant and Zwieback were sold in vacuum-sealed packages to ensure a long shelf life. Especially popular in the German portions of Switzerland, they became part of nearly every restaurant's bread basket. In addition to the role Roland products garnered as a breakfast item, they continue to be, like Melba Toast, the staple of dieters. Beginning in 1949, Roland added another product to its line with its first Sticks and Bretzels. Pain croustillant, Zwieback, Sticks, and Bretzels continue to constitute the cornerstones of Roland's income.
After the death of Leopold Schoffler in 1949, his son, Heinz, took over direction of the company. From very early on, the company concentrated much effort and money on its marketing and advertising campaigns, and after World War II Roland began placing even more emphasis on the promotion of its products. It was under Heinz Schoffler's leadership, however, that Roland started to build a substantial market. Though the concept of marketing was still relatively new, the company systematically organized sales promotion measures, setting up thousands of in-store taste tests in 1953.
In a nation as remarkably diverse in language and cultural contact as Switzerland, products must be easily recognizable to all consumers. Every aspect of Roland's promotional efforts was fine-tuned to attract and keep their customers. The company paid a great deal of attention to such things as product packaging, making it very simple and homogeneous. Uniform packaging with blue and red bands of color and the company's logo made it easy for customers to identify Roland's products, regardless of what language they spoke.
Over the years, Roland has adapted its product line to meet market demands. New products have been launched and others retired, according to consumer preferences. In addition to the seven varieties of pain croustillant, three varieties of Zwieback, Sticks Roland, and Bretzels Roland, the company's other products include Biscottes, Fit-Corn, Pancroc, Grissini, Snackers, Flutes de Morat, Chips au fromage, Apero-Pic, Noix, Coques de meringues, Tartelettes, and Eventails and Biscuits. Though these items are popular and well-known, they do not have the market-dominance of the incontestable leaders Roland has in its staple dry breads and Zwieback. However, the product line for retail commerce and such large consumers as hotels, hospitals, and restaurants is comprised of more than 80 products.
In recent years Roland has launched some successful new items in two different domains: products with a long shelf life, and biscuits apéritifs. Some of the dry bread products contained nuts and fruit; new Zwieback varieties featured crystalized sugar. The company is poised to take advantage of increasing interests in healthy and durable edibles.
While Roland enjoys great product recognition and market-share, the market volume of any product in Switzerland reaches a natural ceiling due to the country's size. For this reason, Roland continues to apply itself to varying its product line, but is especially attentive, of late, to the increasingly important foreign market. With the Swiss reputation for quality products, this seems a sure way for Roland Murten AG to keep growing.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 7. St. James Press, 1993.