Meat, cheese or booze: What do the Swiss spend the most money on?

Feel like you ate more than usual last year? Switzerland spent more than ever on food in 2020 - but what food item took up the biggest slice of the budget?

Meat, cheese or booze: What do the Swiss spend the most money on?
Swiss consumers shops mostly in retail chains. Photo by AFP

Two new studies have shown what foods Swiss consumers like to buy, and which expenses take out the biggest chunk out of their budget.

The food retail in Switzerland achieved a record turnover of almost 30 billion francs in 2020, an increase of more than 11 percent compared to 2019.

This is the finding of in-depth analysis carried out by the Federal Office for Agriculture, which examined expenditures in physical grocery stores, not online purchases.

The main finding: Swiss households spent 7,680 francs on average in 2020 on food and drink. One in 10 francs was spent on organic products.

Consumers showed preference for Swiss agriculture

This is reflected in the amount of money they spent on domestic meat, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables. All of these goods generated a turnover of 10.6 billion francs, the study shows.

The highest single expense in Switzerland was on meat. The average household spent 1,383 francs on meat in 2020. 

The next highest single expense category was, predictably, drinks – with the average Swiss spending 1,237 francs on drinks in 2020. 

MAPS: Which canton is Switzerland's fattest? 

Dairy products made up 1,026 francs while breads and cereals cost the average Swiss 840 francs last year. 

‘Animal products’, that is, meat and eggs, made up 35.6 percent of food expenses, while fruits and vegetables accounted for 13.7 percent.

Most consumers shop in retail chains

Migros, Coop, and other chains generated food sales of 22.9 billion francs or 77 percent of total sales. Discounters like Denner and Aldi totalled 17 percent.

The smallest turnover — 1.8 million francs — was generated by smaller specialty food shops, bakeries, and butchers.

Their share of sales was only 6.1 percent.

Organic produce

Households spent an average of only 820 francs —slightly more than ten percent of total expenditure — to buy organic food. Organic eggs were particularly popular.

READ MORE: Swiss cheese exports swell amid pandemic cooking frenzy 

Regional differences

Interestingly, the study found local preferences for the kind of food being purchased in different regions.

For instance, households in French-speaking Switzerland spent 4 percent of their budget on fish, compared to just 2.1 percent in the Swiss-German part.

Also, households in urban areas bought less meat and milk than those in rural regions. And families with children had higher expenses for meat, while those without children spent more on vegetables and alcohol.

Household budget

Another new study, released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), shows what goods and services take out the biggest chunk of a household budget. 

The biggest expenses — 24.9 percent of overall budget—  are housing and energy, which include rent or mortgage payments, as well as electricity and heating costs.

Next are healthcare insurance (15.6 percent), followed by commuting costs (10.9) and groceries (10.5). All these costs are predicted to increase in 2021.

An earlier FSO study indicated that the average household disposable income in Switzerland is just over 7,000 francs per month. 

READ MORE: What do people in Switzerland spend their money on? 


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Why tinned ravioli is a cult classic in Switzerland

If you come from Italy, the idea of this meat-filled square pasta coming from a can rather than from mamma's or nonna's kitchen may be hard to swallow. But as generations of Swiss will tell you, this is a cult dish.

Why tinned ravioli is a cult classic in Switzerland

There is no accounting for taste, but you probably know by now that the Swiss like to eat and drink some things that may very well turn other people’s stomachs.

Here are some of them:

They either enjoy the taste – or the history behind these foods and beverages… which may also explain why so many swear by canned ravioli.

A timeless classic

Back in 1866 in a small town of Lenzburg in canton Aargau a Hero was born.

Not literally, of course, but the company bearing this name started to preserve fruits and vegetables so they could retain their freshness longer.

In fact, Hero-label jams as well as canned fruits and vegetables are still a common sight on Swiss supermarket shelves.

The next milestone in the company’s history came in 1948, when Hero started canning meat ravioli in tomato sauce. This meal is widely sold to this day, which means it is ‘celebrating’, as it were, its 75th anniversary.

Though cans themselves may have changed with time, the ravioli hasn’t

If you wince at the mere thought of eating canned meat ravioli, don’t let the Swiss see it.

Because for millions of them, the fond memory of opening the can, pouring the contents into a dish, and delving into the sweetish tomato sauce, is part of their childhoods.

This is even more the case if you were a scout and remember sharing cans of Hero raviolis with your troop, or maybe a student living in a dormitory on a tight budget.


A cult favourite of the Swiss. Photo courtesy of Hero ravioli.

Seventy-five years of preserving memories

In this context, the word ‘preserve’ has a double meaning, but you get the gist: given the nostalgia, the canned ravioli in tomato sauce is a true Swiss classic.

Soon after the product was first launched, Hero ran an advertising campaign geared to men. It was based on a premise that though they may have been inept at cooking from scratch, they could certainly open a can and heat up the ravioli all by themselves.

A slogan popular in the 1950s said that canned ravioli is so simple to make that even “Uncle Otto cooks himself.” (Thankfully, it didn’t sound quite so weird in German — “Onkel Otto kocht selber.”

That was then, but what about now?

The company has launched an anniversary campaign this year to spread the message among the younger generation that Hero’s ravioli has been “hot since 75 years”.

Yes, but what exactly is in it?

The manufacturer says that only free-range eggs are used for the dough, and they exclusively use Swiss beef and pork for the filling.

The secret of the taste, according to the company, lies in the special herb and spice mix, as well as in the tomato sauce.

However, back in 1978, allegations were made that Hero used pig heads, stomachs, hearts and lungs for their meat filling. The company denied the accusation and this 45-year-old affair is now only vaguely remembered as Switzerland’s ‘ravioli scandal.’

Whether this is better (or worse) than a banking scandal is not for us to say.