Sustainable products, online development, but also always strong in the four corners of Switzerland: Philipp Wyss, director of the Coop group since May last year, outlines his priorities for the food giant.
In August 2021:
Le Temps: You took office last May. What is and will change under your leadership?
Philip Wyss: Coop is very well positioned, in very good health and has been gaining market share for years. From these bases I can build. It’s not that drastic changes need to be made. Last year, for example, we achieved 5.4 billion in turnover from sustainable products, of which 2 billion from organic products for the first time: I can go into that in more detail.
What are your priorities?
There are three. I just mentioned the first, which is developing sustainable products in retail and wholesale. Next, we want to stay close to the people, both in cities and in more remote valleys. This means that we continue to develop and innovate our sales areas. But the most important of these three points is online trading. With the pandemic, we’ve got a boost that needs to be held. Personally, I am a man who loves innovation and novelty, I am ready to motivate teams to try new things.
In May 2021:
You mentioned e-commerce. What other changes in shopping behavior related to the pandemic will be lasting?
The covid has given a boost in several areas. One is related to small supermarkets. We count 600. They have benefited immensely from the pandemic. We were able to see that in this context, customers wanted to go to the nearest stores and did not want to move more than was necessary. These stores, measuring approximately 500 m2, with between 6,000 and 7,000 products, are replenished daily. So this trend will continue, at least in part. Even in the regions very close to the border, where the inhabitants were shopping tourists, I am convinced that we convinced them to continue shopping in the small local supermarkets.
Even with open borders and a strong franc?
We have two strong arguments: our Prix Garantie products, whose offer we have developed, the quality of which is the same at a discount price. The second is our organic range. Take the Coop de La Praille in Carouge (GE), which we have completely renovated, with 16,000 sustainable products.
The strong interest in organic and local since the pandemic, so it’s not just a temporary effect that fades?
I do not think so. With covid, people have understood the importance of sustainability. On the one hand, organic food to be healthy. But on the other hand, also consume environmentally friendly products. We saw it with our Oecoplan range, including detergents for example, which showed a very important development. Other trends will continue: everyone has become a bit of a gardener during incarceration, as we’ve seen in the rise at Brico + Loisirs [dont la marque va disparaître au profit de Jumbo suite au rachat de cette dernière, ndlr], it won’t disappear completely. Being strong in retail in Switzerland and wholesale abroad, with these two pillars, has helped us a lot. Where one suffered, the other benefited and vice versa.
You talk about increasing the number of stores while online sales are growing: isn’t that a paradox?
Yes absolutely. We have been opening small shops all over Switzerland for years. It is always important to be where people live and not just in big centers where you have to travel by car. At the same time, customers always order more on the internet, in food the share online with us is 2%. We have received a huge boost with the pandemic, which has given us two to three years of growth and this is not slowing down, on the contrary. But it will take time to reach 5% or 10%, even as growth continues and our offering, which is the largest in number of products, develops.
How far can online food sales grow?
I don’t see this share higher than 5 to 10%. Stationary trade will continue, in food, no doubt about it. This applies to all generations, young people go to the shops just as often to do their shopping. It’s normal: when it comes to food, we want to see the products we’re going to cook. And there is another factor: we also want to see the products according to the seasons, which is not possible via a computer. Each week, products are added or removed as their season begins or ends, be it fruits, vegetables, or mushrooms. We have put a lot of manual labor into this product organization. Even daily, depending on the weather: for example, if it is very hot, we will highlight watermelons.
Strawberries and raspberries are available all year round, the concept of the season is still quite broad…
Ultimately, the consumer has the choice and we make available to him what the producers deliver to us. We also respond to their wishes.
If the potential of online food is limited, that of other products is less. What are your ambitions?
In e-commerce we achieve a turnover of 2.6 billion francs, half of which in retail. The success of Microspot, our electronics platform, is undeniable with 500,000 items and another double-digit growth this year, in line with the previous one. It’s also very innovative: for example, we are the only ones with vending machines that make custom packaging, so we never have to use wedge materials in the packaging. Here too, we want to continue to grow and expand our range.
Does Coop have the ambition to compete with Galaxus with Microspot?
We clearly have a different strategy. We are no less successful than Migros and Galaxus. We continue to grow and gain market share. We decided from the start that each store would have its own online sales platform. For example, Interdiscount or Import Parfumerie also have their online shop. But overall, we are clearly the number one in homeware and electronics in Switzerland, despite the competition.
Syrup, the joint venture between Coop and Swisscom, failed and was shut down. What have you learned from this?
The decision to stop dates back to three years ago. It was also during this time that it became clear that we had to make Microspot the flagship online marketplace, but not only: it would also become our main online offering outside of food. For example, we have integrated articles from Ochsner Sport. There is a potential for online growth in all areas, between 20 and 40%, depending on the type of products. But it is also very clear to us that stationary trading will continue to be important regardless of commodities. That is why we invest heavily in the stores every year to keep them very attractive.
So innovation takes place more in physical commerce than online?
We must not forget that of the 30 billion turnover, only 2.6 are made online. That is why we must focus our innovative strength on stationary trade. For example, we have launched a new store concept in Bern, which includes, in addition to the supermarket, a lounge with a view of the old town, a vinotheque and a beer room. The most important innovations must satisfy the customer of the stores, which are visited by 1.5 million customers every day. Innovation also affects logistics. Railcare, our very own express train, allows us to get closer to our stores, with truck deliveries only for the last mile. This saves us the equivalent of almost 10,000 tons of CO2. No other distributor in the world can do this. We don’t do it because it’s cheap, but because we think it’s good for the environment.
What about product innovation?
Innovation also extends to the range: we were the first to offer vegan products and we now offer 1400 for a turnover of 500 million. Many of these products are made in Switzerland. Demand is very high: today one in five hamburgers bought from us has no meat and the demand for vegan milk has more than tripled in the last ten years. It will continue.
Will we ever see fully automated Coop stores?
No, we don’t see the point. Innovation will continue, thanks to Passabene you can already buy with your mobile phone and new technologies will continue to develop.
1966: Born in Büron in the canton of Lucerne.
1985: Business Administration.
1989: Butcher’s diploma.
1993: Product manager at Migros.
1997: Go to Coop.
2004: Vice Chairman of the Executive Board and Chief Marketing/Purchasing Officer.
May 2021: Becomes chairman of the General Management of Coop.