| Switzerland

“There is surging demand for specialty coffee in Switzerland” – ViCAFE CEO, Ramon Schalch

From humble origins as a small café in Eglisau to a 17-store operation across northern Switzerland, ViCAFE is reimagining coffee on-the-go with its focus on specialty, sustainability and speed-of-service. The brand’s CEO Ramon Schalch speaks to World Coffee Portal about surging demand for quality coffee in Zürich, finding innovative solutions to disposable cup waste and the importance of local sourcing

ViCAFE’s Geroldstrasse store (left) and CEO Ramon Schalch (right) | Photo credit: ViCAFE


How has your experience of Zurich’s coffee on-the-go market influenced ViCAFE’s approach? 

As the home of fully automated coffee machines, coffee to-go is a familiar product in Switzerland. However, coffee to-go has traditionally been a purely functional beverage in Zürich – neither particularly good nor bad. In observing the city’s bustling environment, where people are often in a rush, we noticed very little attention was given to customer experience.  

ViCAFE’s concept and service culture has allowed us to combine the physical product and service to provide an exceptional on-the-go coffee experience. 

ViCAFE was launched as an offshoot of the popular Vivi Kola brand in 2010 – how did you bring about this transformation? 

It was not the plan and we could never have imagined this from the start. After roasting and serving coffee in Eglisau for four years, we opened our first coffee window at Goldbrunnenplatz, Zurich, in 2014, inspired by the ‘hole-in-the-wall' concept of New York’s street food scene. 

In the first year, consumers were confused by the concept and we struggled, especially operating during the chilly Swiss winters. However, after refining our concept we opened a second store at Bellevue in 2015 which allowed us to specialise in a fast-paced, high footfall location with strong visibility in the city.

Sticking to our concept, we took one step after the other, and today we are proud to manage a portfolio of 17 Espresso Bars in Zürich, Basel and Eglisau.  

“The Clay Cup opens a whole new category in the take-away sector”

Which consumer trends are currently shaping the Swiss coffee shop market?   

There is surging demand for specialty coffee in Switzerland. Discerning coffee aficionados are seeking unique flavour profiles, artisanal brewing methods and immersive coffee experiences. Sustainability is a key trend shaping consumer decisions. Consumers are increasingly conscious of environmental and social issues, from ethically sourced coffee to plant-based beverages and waste reduction initiatives. Therefore, we are extremely proud to announce our B Corp certification as of February 2024! 

The digital transformation is also reshaping the coffee landscape. Coffee shop operators are leveraging technology to enhance speed, convenience, and greater customer engagement, such as with contactless payments and digital loyalty programmes. 

How has your business sought to minimise the impact of disposable cups?  

This is one of the biggest challenges and responsibilities we need to address. We incentivise the use of reusable cups with a discount, but this only works well for certain customer groups. To increase the reusable cup ratio, we entered a strategic partnership with San Francisco-based startup GaeaStar in January 2024 to be the first in Europe to launch their 3D printed clay cup made from three natural materials – clay, water and salt. They are plastic-free and can be reused, repurposed or disposed of in the garden once they are crushed. 

The clay cup opens a whole new category in the take-away sector. We call it a ‘to-go ceramic’ – an innovative cup somewhere between single-use and reusable cups. 

How does ViCAFE balance speed-of-service with the specialty coffee experience? 

We understand the importance of delivering a consistent and seamless on-the-go coffee experience without compromising on quality. Our baristas undergo rigorous training at our ViCAFE Academy to master the art of brewing quickly without sacrificing precision or taste.

They work with state-of-the-art equipment which helps to reduce efficiencies and errors. Simplicity is key in our product and workflow design. Despite the emphasis on speed, we never compromise on personalised service and attention to detail.  

ViCAFE customers being served coffee in the GaeaStar Clay Cup | Photo credit: ViCAFE

Tell us about ViCAFE’s coffee sourcing programme and local supply chain. 

We currently buy coffee from 16 farms and small clusters of family farms that we regularly visit to discuss practices, processing protocols and logistics. When it comes to pricing, we generally follow a strict cost-plus model. We take the time to ask each participant in the value chain – from farm to importer – about what price they would charge to cover costs, while making a profit. This approach helps us to build trust and establish long-term relationships. 

In 2022, we initiated an independent foundation – ViFOUNDATION – to enable positive change within the different coffee communities through agro-ecology – from building composting facilities to leveraging technologies. We contribute CHF 0.50 ($0.57) per kg of roasted coffee to the foundation. 

Coffee is a truly global product, but we try to keep our value chains as short as possible by building local sourcing ‘clusters’. Our cows milk is locally sourced from organic farms in the region. Two years ago, in collaboration with other independent Swiss roasters, we launched a cooperative called Gutsch, which sources our organic oatmilk from local farmers. This local sourcing policy is not only instrumental in reducing our footprint but also helps us build a brand people can relate to. 

“Coffee is a truly global product, but we try to keep our value chains as short as possible by building local sourcing clusters” 

How have ViCAFE’s direct-to-consumer and workplace coffee channels developed? 

After surviving a complete lockdown in 2020, we decided to pursue a risk mitigation strategy and diversify our product and service portfolio. We are currently rolling out our ViCAFE at Work solution as part of a strategic partnership with Eversys. 

Retail is another key segment. Currently, our coffee can be bought at Switzerland’s two largest retailers, Coop and Migros. Following the trend of online shopping, digital retailers such as Galaxus are becoming increasingly important. We see enormous potential for future growth there and are investing in these partnerships. 

In the long run, both channels will support our objective to become a national market player and create extended brand awareness in areas where we are not present with our core Espresso Bar business. 

What’s next for ViCAFE?  

Our focus remains on delivering an exceptional customer experience across channels while building an environmentally, socially and financially sustainable business. We are committed to expanding our physical presence to new locations, locally and nationally, and are also looking into opportunities to expand into the specialty coffee capsule and ready-to-drink (RTD) markets.  

Ramon Schalch is CEO of ViCAFE

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