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Why the Ovomaltine drink is a true Swiss classic

If you have never tried Switzerland’s famous malt-based beverage, you may want to give it a try. It is just what the doctor ordered.

Why the Ovomaltine drink is a true Swiss classic
A wide range of Ovomaltine products. Photo: Ovomlatine press service

In more ways than one, Ovomaltine has a lot of ‘Swissness’ in it: it first saw the light of day in Bern, has a chocolaty flavour, and is consumed with milk.

If you are partial to chocolate drinks like Caotina or Suchard, the less sweet taste of Ovomaltine may not tickle your fancy as much, especially if you are discovering this beverage as an adult.

The Swiss, on the other hand, develop a taste for it in childhood, drinking it hot for breakfast or cold for zvieri / quatre-heures — a traditional snack the kids have in the afternoon when they return from school.

A perfect after-school drink. Photo: Pixabay

What exactly is Ovomaltine?

It is a – cocoa flavoured powder made from malt extract and dried eggs, which is dissolved in cold or hot milk — pretty much the same way as instant chocolate powder is.

However, it is less sweet than a traditional cocoa drink, with a distinct malty flavour.

Ovomaltine is a brainchild of a chemist Georg Wander who lived in the second half of the 19th century.
The only blemish in this Swiss success story is that Wander was actually German. However, as many German immigrants then and now, he was naturalised and settled in Bern, where he opened a laboratory which manufactured tinctures, ointments, oils and beverages.

This is how we got interested in malt, and in how its extracts could be used in various edible forms.

However, it was only after his death that Wander’s son, Albert, perfected his father’s recipe, launching the early version of Ovomaltine in 1904.

It was originally marketed as a doctor-recommended health drink, although how much of this is actually true is debatable.

Strengthening Switzerland’s defences

According to House of Switzerland organisation, “though Ovomaltine was never strictly proven to have medicinal properties, the product began to conquer all sorts of new consumers and markets, including nursing mothers, exhausted factory workers, stressed motorists and sports people. Next the Swiss wonder drink was adopted by the armed forces, where it was deployed to ‘strengthen Switzerland’s defences’.” 

For decades, Ovomaltine had been sold in large orange tins, though over the years the original powder morphed into a wide variety of products, including candy, biscuits and chocolate spread.

And if you think the world ‘Ovomaltine’ sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because its sweeter version is sold in foreign countries under the ‘Ovaltine’ label.

These are some other typically Swiss foods:

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How can we explain the Swiss obsession with the drink Rivella?

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Are the Swiss big spenders when it comes to Christmas presents?

Switzerland has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. But how much of this money is spent on Christmas gifts?

Are the Swiss big spenders when it comes to Christmas presents?

Given that the Swiss are frugal even in the best of times, and that the cost of living (inflation, as well as higher rents and health insurance rates) in the country has soared, will the people be in the Christmas shopping mood?

And if so, how much will they spend on gifts?

The only point of reference we have at this point is the holiday season of 2022 or, rather, the last four weeks of December.

Even though the inflation rate at that time (2.8 percent) was higher than it is currently (below 2 percent), and consequently many consumer goods were more expensive, people in Switzerland still managed to get into the holiday spirit — also in terms of shopping.

According to data from the auditing and consulting firm Ernst and Young (EY), 343 francs per capita were spent on Christmas gifts — a 3-percent increase over the previous year.

This may not seem like much, but compare it with neighbour Germany, where ‘only’ 250 euros (237 francs) per capita go toward Christmas presents — two euros less than in the previous year, according to EY. 

What about this year’s Christmas season?

It is too early to know how much will be spent on gifts, since December has just begun and many people postpone their shopping until later in the month.

However, based on retail figures from Black Friday (November 24th), which is often seen as precursor to Christmas shopping, the season has started with a bang.

Swiss consumers spent 490 million francs in 24 hours — 10 million francs more than the previous year.

According to The Monitoring Consumption project at the University of St. Gallen, this year again, the “consumption curve” in Switzerland is rising sharply. 

‘Irrational’ buying?

Taking into account the financial burdens faced by many households in Switzerland, why do the people continue to spend so much on Christmas gifts?

“Anyone who looks at consumer behaviour using traditional economic models, surely no longer understands anything,” economic psychologist Christian Fichter told Watson news platform.

He said that even though this ‘buying fever’ may be “irrational,” there are ways to explain it.

“First of all, the situation on the labour market is good and wallets are full. This is always the most important factor in purchasing decisions,” he said.

“Secondly, our consumption needs remain despite the crisis atmosphere. And Christmas is sacred to us anyway.”
READ ALSO: Where can you shop on Sundays in Switzerland during December?