Industry association Biscosuisse defines the biscuit market as including savoury products such as French toast, aperitif products and snacks, as well as sweet biscuits, chocolate-covered products and semi-finished items used as ingredients in other foodstuffs such as desserts. Speciality biscuits (such as chocolate-covered products) account for the lion's share of production - some 41.2 per cent.
Total volumes reached 45,546 tons in 2003, up 1.6 per cent on the previous year, while price increases helped push up turnover by the slightly higher figure of 2.1 per cent to SF427.6 million, according to Biscosuisse.
But it was foreign sales that drove the market, with exports rising 13.5 per cent to 15,751 tons and generating sales of SF135.9 million, an increase of 16.8 per cent. The performance was all the more welcome given that it came after three years of poor export figures, and was attributed primarily to a rebound in exports to Germany, the biggest single market for Swiss biscuit exports.
The recession in Germany has driven increasing numbers of consumers to shop at discount stores - in turn prompting other retailers to reduce their prices - and this has taken a major toll on sales of Swiss biscuits there, a situation not helped by the strength of the Swiss franc against the euro.
Swiss biscuit exports to Germany experienced a major upturn in 2003, with volumes rising by 23.5 per cent, despite the continued weakness of the economy there. Germany remained the most important market for Swiss biscuit exporters, accounting for 48 per cent of the total, well ahead of France with 28 per cent.
But the situation at home remained difficult, with the second successive annual decline in sales: volumes fell by 3.7 per cent to 29,795 tons, while value sales were some 3.5 per cent lower at SF291.8 million. Biscosuisse said that domestic sales had in fact been stagnating at best for the last 10 years, due mainly to a rising tide of cheaper imported products, mostly from the EU.
Some 96 per cent of all Swiss biscuit imports come from European Union countries, and volumes have doubled since 1993 to reach some 44,144 tons in 2003, and domestic producers have a difficult task ahead of them if they are to win back market share which is being steadily eroded year-on-year.
The 12 Swiss companies operating in this sector said that tackling the domestic crisis would be a top priority this year, and would focus primarily on price: imports are almost universally cheaper than Swiss-made biscuits, and this has been the main reason for their phenomenal success.
Cutting prices will clearly impact margins, and Swiss producers will be hoping that the forecast upturn in the global economy does eventually materialise, as this is likely to stimulate a further rise in export sales, in turn offsetting the impact of price cuts in the domestic market.