When is something from Switzerland officially considered Swiss?

What does it take for Switzerland’s most popular exports, such as watches, chocolate, and cheese, to be officially branded “Swiss”? Do they even need to be produced in Switzerland.

When is something from Switzerland officially considered Swiss?
When is something officially Swiss? Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash

It is not secret: Swiss-made sells. According to Switzerland’s SME Portal for small and medium-sized enterprises, several studies have shown that slapping a “Made in Switzerland” label on any given product can represent as much as 20 percent of its sale price when compared to similar products from other origin countries. For luxury goods, the Swiss-made tag can represent up to 50 percent of the sale price.

Naturally, with product sales featuring Swiss branding soaring sky high, Switzerland has set clear criteria to protect the worth of its Swiss-made label as well as the logo featuring the white cross against a red background for products manufactured within its borders.

In the summer of 2013, the Swiss parliament passed a new “Swissness” legislation with the aim of ensuring the added value of the “Swiss” brand on a global scale long term and in doing so, protecting it from misuse.

The “Swissness” legislation defines the various requirements that goods and services must meet in order to be labelled as “Swiss” before hitting the shelves. It was approved by the Federal Council on September 2nd 2015 and came into effect on January 1st 2017.

The companies whose products and services meet these criteria may use the Swiss indication of origin voluntarily and without a permit.

How much ‘Swissness’ is required?

The amount of “Swissness” that is required in each product for it to be worthy of the “Swiss” trademark varies depending on the category of the item.

The following conditions now need to be met for a product or service to be considered Swiss:

  • Natural products: Origin is defined according to a single variable criterion depending on the product (e.g., the place of harvest for plant products).
  • Foodstuffs: At least 80 percent of the raw materials used must come from Switzerland, while 100 percent of milk and diary products must originate in Switzerland, including the processing of cheese.
  • Other products, such as industrial products. At least 60 percent of the cost price (including R&D costs) must be realised in Switzerland, including the manufacturing stage which confers on the product its essential characteristics. However, there is an exception: under certain conditions, it is possible to exclude raw materials and semi-finished products which do not exist in Switzerland.
  • Services. Not only must the company’s registered office Switzerland-based but it must also be run from Switzerland.

Rules tighter around food

The rules are somewhat stricter when it comes to labelling quality agricultural products and their processed products as Swiss.

In order to be labelled as mountain products, such as mountain cheese, the raw materials must both come and be processed in the mountain region, which includes all neighbouring communities. If the product is processed outside the mountain region, only the origin of the resources may be named (e.g., yogurt made from mountain milk).

There are also tighter rules around cheese in which case both the milk production and cheesemaking must occur in the mountain area.

For alpine products (e.g., alpine herbs), the place of manufacturing and production is limited to the summer grazing pastures which include the areas traditionally used for alpine farming.

All products that claim to be produced and manufactured in the mountains and alps must be checked by an accredited certification body according to this regulation to ensure that is the case.

The only exceptions within foodstuffs occur for natural products which cannot be products in Switzerland, such as cacao, due to natural conditions, or which are simply unavailable in sufficient quantity.

Customs union areas

When it comes to agriculture, Switzerland has special regulations for customs union areas (Zollanschlussgebiet) which apply Swiss laws and pursue quality management comparable to that in Switzerland. Some of the land based across its borders is even cultivated by Swiss farmers.

The places which are considered equal to Switzerland are the Principality of Liechtenstein, Büsingen in Germany, Pays de Gex and Haute-Savoie in France, as well as Swiss farms in some foreign border zones.

In Geneva, for instance, products from farms on French territory can be sold in Switzerland as a Swiss product. The logic is simple: Swiss cows munching on French grass still produce Swiss milk – so long as we ignore the French “ingredients”.

Companies that don’t comply

Businesses that do not meet the criteria set out by the “Swissness” legislation can opt to develop some product stages in Switzerland to give their products a sale boost. For instance, if a sausage is smoked in Switzerland, the product can make a mention of that (“Smoked in Switzerland”), or if a piece of furniture is refurbished in Switzerland it can state so. However, in neither case can the Swiss cross be affixed to the product.

Special bans on Swiss cross

There are some additional bans when it comes to making use of the Confederation coats of arms (which are made up of a Swiss cross set inside a triangular escutcheon). The use of the Confederation coats of arms is reserved for public authorities exclusively. Any private company wishing to use the Swiss cross label would have to obtain a special authorisation granting it permission – but this is very rare.

Furthermore, companies mustn’t use the Swiss cross to suggest any kind of relation with the Confederation.

The Swiss cross can also no longer adorn a number of items and services where it might be mistaken for the Red Cross (such as in the medical sector).

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Unwritten rules: 10 things you shouldn’t do in Switzerland

In Switzerland, there are many unwritten rules that the Swiss follow in their daily lives. Knowing these 10 can help save you time, money, and stress, writes Swiss national Sandra Sparrowhawk.

Unwritten rules: 10 things you shouldn't do in Switzerland

Assume that every Swiss is a multi-lingual

While Switzerland has four official languages – German (Swiss German), French, Italian and Romansh – the Swiss are not required to be proficient in all four, and are far more likely to be conversational in one additional national language as well as English.

Take it from me, as a native of German-speaking Aargau, French was the mandatory ‘foreign’ language I was taught in secondary school and if you were to approach me in Italian, I’d have to say non parlo molto bene l’italiano.

And what little Italian I do know, I learned in Italy – not Ticino. Scusa.

READ MORE: Swiss Italian vs standard Italian: What are the key differences?

Underestimate nature

One of the first things my foreign friends told me upon landing in Switzerland was that they cannot wait to go hiking in the Swiss Alps.

But while Switzerland is a perfect place to go hiking with its thousands of marked trails, every year, hundreds of people get into accidents while trekking, and some even die.

So, my advice to you if you do want to explore Swiss nature is to stick to hiking trails at all times, make sure you wear appropriate clothing (specifically shoes), pack enough water, and download the Meteo Swiss App to stay informed on severe weather forecasts and other natural hazards.

READ MORE: How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps

Shop on a Saturday

For many Swiss people, Saturday is hailed as the perfect weekday to stock up on all your food supplies to avoid running out of food on a Sunday, despite the store Avec being a perfectly reasonable (and open) plan B.

But while shopping on Saturdays spares you from having to hit the shelves right after work, Swiss food stores are notoriously packed with shoppers on the weekend – one of the few times a week you should really prioritise winding down.

In general, when out shopping in Switzerland, be sure to greet shopkeepers when entering a store and paying for goods. However, don’t expect fellow shoppers to queue up. The Swiss, while polite, do not have a queuing culture and will absolutely step in front of you if you let them.

Take a long time to order at the bakery

If you happen to be a morning person who enjoys a yummy pastry in the morning, remember that hitting the bakery in Switzerland will require you to make up your mind about your order fast – and ideally before you get there.

Unlike in some European countries, the Swiss like to get on with their day’s work and prolonged chats paired with indecisiveness are generally not encouraged. That said, always feel free to ask for recommendations.

Sit in a (train) seat without asking

You may look at the empty seat before you and ask: “But there’s no one sat here?”

And yet, even if a passenger is occupying a four-seater on a train all by themselves, in Switzerland, it is common courtesy to ask if the seemingly empty seat(s) is still available before you get comfortable – and not just because their friend(s) may be using the toilet.

If you are invited to take a seat, remember to keep quiet on Swiss trains so as not to disturb other travellers.

Attend a dinner without bringing a small gift

If you have been invited to a party or home-cooked dinner by a friend, colleague, or acquaintance, the etiquette is to bring a small gift as a thank you. In Switzerland, most people choose to bring a bottle of wine or a seasonal bouquet of flowers. In a business setting, it is not necessary to bring or exchange a gift.

And while on the topic of dinner, never ring a Swiss person at dinnertime as we consider that time sacred, especially in today’s busy world. You’re welcome.

READ MORE: The dos and don’ts of Swiss social etiquette

Spend a small fortune on water

Switzerland is repeatedly recognised as a country with the best quality tap water in the world, according to the United Nations. In fact, eighty percent of the water comes from natural springs and groundwater, the rest is taken from the lakes.

The same (usually) goes for fountain water.

Except for the winter months when the water is prone to freezing, drinking fountains can be found practically everywhere in Switzerland.

The quality of water in the fountains is inspected by each municipality to ensure that it is clean and safe to drink.

If this is not the case, a label with the note “no drinking water” must be visibly attached.

In the summer, I would recommend carrying a reusable drinking bottle wherever you go. This will not only keep you hydrated, but also save you money.

Hold a feast on a Sunday

While you are perfectly allowed to activate your weekend mode on Saturdays (though extreme noise is never welcome, because this is Switzerland), come Sunday the Swiss expect everyone – with the exception of newborns – to switch to silent-mode for the entire day. But what exactly counts as a disturbance of one’s peace? Luckily, that’s a bit of a grey zone and largely relies on a person’s common sense to decide just what is an appropriate level of noise.

On a wider scale, unwanted noise can include anything from playing instruments, slamming doors during arguments, using a drill for home improvements, or emulating Heidi Klum in some fancy high heels.

Small tip: If you’re set on hosting a party on a Sunday, notify your neighbours first, and good luck – you’ll need it.

Don’t push in

While the Swiss may not have a queuing culture when waiting on a train, they do consider it good form to pay attention to your surroundings and give way to whomever arrived first – be it when entering a lift or when trying to snag the last available parking space.

Expect public transport to wait for you

The Swiss public transport system is known for its reliable punctuality and the latter is actually a big part of local culture.

With that being said, if you happen to arrive at the platform ‘just a tad late’ for your train and make a run for it hoping the train operator will spot you and show you mercy, know that in Switzerland this will not be the case.

Since Switzerland’s rail network is very busy, even a small delay in a waiting train can cause a chain reaction and lead to many more delays.

The same (usually) goes for buses, though they are known to occasionally turn a blind eye if traffic and schedules allow.