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Rychiger celebrates its centennial

From the November 2018 issue.

From repairing bicycles to building filling and sealing machines, Rychiger has grown to become a market leader over its 100 years of operation.

Rychiger has a lot to celebrate.

Since the company’s founding 100 years ago, it has withstood many transitions and challenges, and is now synonymous with producing capsule filling machinery.

Rychiger Executive Manager Axel Förster tells Global Coffee Report that the company began celebrating its centennial by thanking its employees.

“We spent a day out. We held five different excursions [our staff] could sign up for: golf, wine tasting, a game event, Grimselwelt adventure park – following the paths set of hydroelectric power, and bike touring,” Förster says.

“Then, in the evening we had a big party with a band playing and a big buffet. [It was] lots of fun.”

Rychiger has always stood for and by its employees. In fact, the company’s founding is directly connected to the support of workers’ rights following World War I.

“Rudolf Rychiger, the founder, as an employed Master Technician, was supporting workers at a national strike in 1918,” Förster says.

“In consequence, he was called a troublemaker and communist. He was degraded, which he did not accept and decided to found his own company.”

When it began, Rychiger offered bicycle and automobile repairs out of the company’s present-day site in Switzerland. At the time, the location did not even have electricity.

In 1919, Rudolph built a workshop with space and electricity to meet the growing demand. Soon, most of Rychiger’s work came from military related companies and the automobile industry.

Rychiger expanded over the next two decades, hiring its first employees and even received sensitive assignments from Rudolph’s former employer.

Shortly after World War II, however, Rychiger’s military business petered out, leaving it in search of a new market.

A group of entrepreneurs, including Rudolph’s son Hans Rychiger, created an aluminium based portion pack, utilising Rychiger’s now signature filling and sealing method. The first applications of the new product included Hero Jam portioned packs, Maggi bouillons, meat spreads, and pet food.

Hans took over Rychiger in 1953, gearing the company towards future developments while still remaining firmly grounded.

It would not be until the 1980s that Rychiger would enter the market that now makes up the majority of its business, coffee.

“[The coffee business] started relatively slow when we built the first filling and sealing machine for Nespresso in the late ‘80s. Most people don’t recall that it took a decade until the system took off,” Förster says.

“From the turn of the century on, single-serve coffee became more and more important, and today, it is our most important business.”

Quick growth without the right structures behind it led to a financial crisis for Rychiger in 2001. Spega, a subsidiary of large Rychiger client Nestlé, took over the company, providing an opportunity for Rychiger to restructure.

Spega appointed Förster to set the foundations that would allow Rychiger to grow.

“We looked at how [Rychiger] accepted and planned customer orders so that they would all be delivered on time,” he says. “We implemented processes that the company didn’t really have and restructured the management team.”

Despite the change of leadership, Förster says Rychiger held onto the values it had always promoted: customer centricity, emphasis on its employees, and long-term thinking.

“We have a defined set of values that has been written down and essentially has not changed over time,” he says.

Rychiger displayed its ability to think long term in 2006, when the company decided to sell its metal packaging business, which accounted for half of its turnover, to focus on coffee.

“The company always strived for and managed to achieve a leading position in the niches it addressed,” Förster says.

“At the same time, it remained flexible and quickly recognised new trends in the packaging market. But we knew as well when it was time to move out of a business.”

New developments geared the metal packaging manufacturing industry towards can production.

“The other manufacturers active in the metal packaging market jumped on it,” Förster says. “They were much more aligned with the can industry which we had never really understood.

“The can industry is very marginally driven. People change suppliers for no reason and you have to have your thinking and structures aligned with that. We were more customer-relationship driven.

“Coffee was booming, so it was quite tempting to put all our resources in that sector.”

The decision paid off. Förster estimates coffee manufacturing equates to 60 per cent of Rychiger’s machinery sales, followed by medical products at 30 per cent and other areas such as pet food contributing the remaining 10 per cent.

Förster says experience in so many different fields gives Rychiger flexibility to apply new knowledge and technology to coffee pod production.

“Our one-stroke technology for cutting and sealing lids that was developed for aluminium containers has been very important initially [to coffee capsule production],” Förster says.

Sixty years’ experience in food packaging also gives Rychiger in-depth knowledge of hygiene, accessibility, and cleaning practices that it applies to its coffee capsule filling lines.

Rychiger’s best-selling machine is the FS 910. It comprises five modules which can be combined with additional units or functions according to need. It is capable of producing 600 or 1200 capsules per minute.

“[The FS 910] meets the requirements of our customers in terms of output, capability, and flexibility,” Förster says.

“We listen, and we try to see the world through the eyes of our individual customer. What makes them successful? How can we contribute to that success? It is important to constantly train our people in realising and addressing that difference.”

Despite having an international reach, Rychiger is committed to Swiss production.

“It is a challenge to be a machine manufacturer in Switzerland, with a high cost base and a strong currency. We take it as a positive, it keeps us lean and agile, like a constant fitness program,” Förster says. “It requires us to be more creative, and better, than others.”

Looking ahead, Förster expects the single serve coffee market to continue to grow, if not at the same rate it once did.

“We still anticipate a growth in the single-serve coffee industry over the next few years, somewhere between five and eight per cent,” he says.

“I believe that two things, single-serve coffee and coffee house chains, have brought quality and consistency to many consumers and have educated [them] on how good a cup of coffee can actually taste.

“This has generated an upswing of the whole coffee industry in recent years, no matter in what serving format. Rychiger is proud to have contributed to this with its people and technology.”

In November, Rychiger will continue hosting its centennial celebrations, this time, holding a party for customers.

“We just erected a new building and will hold the celebration there. It won’t be completely finished yet but it will have a roof, heating, and sanitary installation,” Förster says.

The three-storey building is adjacent to Rychiger’s current base. It will have two floors dedicated to office space and the ground floor for assembly and machinery. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2019.

As for the next 100 years, Förster says Rychiger will grow the same way it always has, “by being conservative on one side and quick in [reacting] on the other.

“And definitely by standing together,” he says. “We have a very high solidarity and loyalty in Rychiger. We are a family.”

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