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With or without the Matterhorn? flat or mountainous? How much “Swissness” does chocolate, specifically Toblerone, need? The Swiss can’t take a joke, so anyone who wants to promote using national symbols must adhere to strict guidelines.

By Thomas Wagner

Switzerland is a strict nation. The Swiss can’t take a joke when it comes to authentically Swiss products and services. Only under specific circumstances are national icons like the Matterhorn, the freedom fighter William Tell, or the Swiss cross permitted on product packaging. Toblerone, a popular confectionery company, is currently suffering.

Originally Swiss: The Matterhorn, which has been featured on the chocolate packaging since 1970, © Morgan Thompson, Unsplash

Tobler Plus Torrone = Toblerone

Theodor Tobler and Emil Baumann, two chocolatiers, created the Toblerone in 1908 and sold it in its familiar triangle form. (the shape has been legally protected since 1909). The words “Tobler” and “Torrone,” the Italian words for honey-almond nougat, are combined to form the name. In 1970, the Matterhorn first showed on the packaging’s side triangle; in 2000, it was moved to the long side. In addition, it hides a bear as a nod to Bern.

The Matterhorn and the Bernese bear are both initially Swiss. The triangular shape of the chocolate ribs reminds one of Alpine peaks, and it is as distinctive for Toblerone as the square shape of the bars is for Ritter Sport. Toblerone is a well-known Swiss chocolate brand, but it has been manufactured in the United States by Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods) and sold in 122 nations since 1990. Until now, the only Toblerone factory in the globe was in Bern. Because capacity is limited and expansion is planned, a portion of the lined-up mountains of chocolate will be produced in Bratislava, Slovakia, beginning in July.

The triangular shape of the chocolate ribs brings up images of Alpine peaks, which is an unmistakable differentiating feature, © Unsplash

In Future without the Matterhorn

For several decades, Toblerone has been associated with the 4478-meter-tall Matterhorn, which is in the canton of Valais, through advertising. But how can that be compared to the oath of eternity that the Swiss Alps so magnificently represent in their majesty? But now that production is no longer exclusively in Switzerland, the “Swissness” required by law falls away – and with it the Matterhorn. Due to this, as has been extensively reported, Mondelez International is replacing the Matterhorn on the mountain’s packaging with an illegible mountain silhouette. A Mondelez representative told the F.A.Z., “The redesign of the packaging brings a modernized and streamlined mountain logo that is consistent with the geometric and triangular aesthetics. Additionally, the Toblerone packaging would now say “established in Switzerland” rather than “of Switzerland” in small letters.

Clear rules apply for Swissness
The “Swissness” legislation prohibits companies from using the designation “Switzerland,” as well as the Swiss cross or other national symbols, to market their products unless they fulfill certain criteria. These are explicitly defined: In the case of foodstuffs, at least 80% of the raw materials must originate from Switzerland in order to wear a Swiss national symbol or use the “Made in Switzerland” seal. In the case of milk and dairy goods, it must even be 100%. Furthermore, the majority of the production steps must be completed in Switzerland.

The “Swissness” law, in force in Switzerland since 2017, is what led to the removal of the Matterhorn and the change in origin designation. The Toblerone manufacturer Mondelez is subject – beyond the Swissness regulations – to an industry agreement of the chocolate manufacturers’ association Chocosuisse, according to which only those products may bear the “Made in Switzerland” seal that have been produced 100% and throughout all production steps in Switzerland. In this manner, Swiss brand makers want to protect themselves from imitators who, according to Chocosuisse, “put misleading references to an alleged Swiss origin on foreign products”.

Is There a Threat of Swissness Being Diluted?

Until now, so Swiss. “Every revolution begins with stupid questions,” Joseph Beuys once said. So let’s ask: won’t Mondelez’s (obvious) trick of printing an invented, unidentifiable “Piz Mondelez” instead of the Matterhorn lead to a dilution of “Swissness” since everyone will unavoidably think of Switzerland when they think of Toblerone? Especially since the question must be allowed whether Toblerone customers in North and South America, Asia or the deserts of Arabia already knew to distinguish the (graphically abstracted) Matterhorn from the Zugspitze, the Säntis or Mont Blanc – so the connection to Swissness is established by the reference to the mountain and the Alps alone? So, in order not to offend anyone, would a long-term marketing strategy similar to euro banknotes, in which all motifs are fictitious, i.e. they only appear to have a local or homeland reference, be recommended? Or, if brand and marketing were to be considered globally, would it be appealing to display a mountain from Slovakia next to the brand name on the chocolate mountain chains produced in Bratislava, such as the Lomnitz Peak (2633 metres high) in the High Tatras?

Identity Politics in the Global Advertising Market

The unique Swissness of products is a quality mark that is as meaningful as it is proven, and for many businesses, it is a crucial selling point in the worldwide competition of goods for market share. The excellent image that the “Swiss brand” has both domestically and internationally offers its users a significant added value, and as such, it needs to be protected. At least that much about the Swiss Confederation can be inferred from the fact that in the case of “Swissness,” origin takes priority over ownership. This is demonstrated by the fact that the use of widely recognized marks of origin for foodstuffs is only linked to raw materials and the location of production, not to who owns a business. As a brand, Swiss pride is also expressed.Therefore, the EU wants to see clearly defined standards for what can legitimately bear the “Made in Germany” or “Made in EU” labels. (plus the corresponding signs). Labeling clothing when it is brought into the EU should be as insufficient as the feta made here in the manner of the Greeks. Plagiarism should be prohibited everywhere. Labeling tactics won’t help in situations where a product’s origin is crucial. In the end, the “Swissness” controversy demonstrates both the value of national identity policies in the global advertising market as well as the significance of companies and their protection in today’s globalized economy.

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