Switzerland’s poultry meat production rose by 4.9 percent last year to stand at 80 million kg, while per capita consumption also grew slightly. The sector is predicting continued expansion as consumers increasingly express a preference for locally produced chicken meat and eggs rather than imported produce, which still accounts for approximately half of the market.
This increase is the continuation of a trend that has occurred year over year for the past two decades. Last year, the national flock passed 10 million head, with two-thirds being broilers and one-quarter laying and breeding birds.
Growth across meat and eggs
Switzerland's broiler and layer flocks have been growing, with latest figures indicating that there are 6.36 million broilers in the country and 2.42 million layers. However, the same pattern has not been in evidence for the breeding flock, which in 2013 stood at 11,982, a significant contraction from the 136,985 recorded a little less than two decades ago.
The two main poultry production areas in the country are the cantons of Bern and Fribourg, which each are home to some 1.7 million birds. Bern has the greater layer population, while Fribourg the bigger broiler flock.
Livestock production is the largest source of income for the country’s agricultural sector and, in 2013, poultry production represented 5.64 percent of Switzerland’s total agricultural economy, an increase of 0.33 percent compared with 2012. Of this total, 3.1 percent can be attributed to broiler production and 2.5 percent for egg production.
Consumers, retailers favor home production
Although per capita poultry meat consumption rose by 0.1 percent last year to stand
at 17.9 kg, the figure is significantly below that of the neighboring European Union of 23 kg, meaning there is certainly room for expansion.
Comparatively low consumption levels, however, are not the only factor that suggest there is room for the Swiss poultry industry to grow. The country has traditionally been an importer of poultry meat and eggs but there is strong and growing demand for more home-produced food.
This growing preference among Swiss consumers for locally produced poultry meat and eggs has resulted in several producers expanding production. Over the past 20 years, Swiss production of poultry meat has more than doubled, while egg production increased by 20 percent.
Moreover, Swiss consumers have a strong preference for poultry over other meats, with 22.4 percent of households in the country saying that it is their meat of choice.
“What is particularly gratifying is that poultry meat is the preferred meat for Swiss households,” comments Andreas Gloor, editor of Swiss poultry publication Aviforum.
This preference is not, however, uniform across the country. French-speaking Switzerland is where the meat is most preferred, with 22.9 percent saying it is their meat of choice.
“While in French-speaking Switzerland, poultry meat is the most popular at home; in German-speaking Switzerland, sausages, pork and other meat products are preferred, followed by poultry at only 17.8 percent,” he adds.
Costs and differentiation
In the short term, the industry is expected to expand moderately, while prices for poultry meat and eggs are expected to remain relatively stable.
Stability in the sector is fostered through close cooperation between producers and buyers through a contract system, and only what the market needs is imported.
However, the share of imported products remains high -- 45.4 percent of the poultry meat consumed in Switzerland is imported. The primary source is Brazil, accounting for 44 percent of total imports, followed by Germany and France.
Imported products tend to be cheaper than those produced domestically, and the industry notes that its higher costs are due to it having to work to more stringent legal requirements than its foreign competition, particularly where animal welfare and environmental protection are concerned.
The country has a higher percentage of barn and free-range production systems, and Swiss farms tend to be smaller than in many other countries both in terms of sheds and the number of birds kept on farm. Flock size per farm is limited by the ordinance on the maximum numbers.
Individual flock size is dependent on the circumstances of the farm, including size, capacity and resources, but usually stands at 8,000 to 12,000 laying, breeding or broilers animals on conventional farms. Numbers are further limited for organic production. For example, organic egg farms can have no more than 2,000 laying hens.
Furthermore, sustainable production and proximity to market are also considered important. And due to import policies, input costs – particularly those for feed – tend to be higher.
However, the factors that lead to higher costs also help Swiss producers to differentiate their product in the market and animal welfare, for example, is an important factor in the purchasing decisions of many Swiss consumers.
At retail level, the share of locally produced poultry meat and eggs stands at 70-80 percent, above the worldwide average. In the catering and food service sectors, however, inclusion of locally produced chicken meat and eggs is much lower.
In addition to growing demand for local produce from Switzerland’s consumers, the industry is also expected to benefit from new government measures in the short term.
The Swiss Federal Council’s 2014-2017 agricultural policy is aiming to strengthen innovation in agriculture and the food chain and raise agriculture’s competitiveness. A total of CHF13.670 billion (US$14.675 billion) is being set aside to support general agricultural production over the period.
Temporary relief will be made available if needed to support meat and egg prices, and the egg-processing sector will also be supported in times of oversupply. There will also be financial support for record keeping and testing.