SUS-CHAIN: Case Studies

CH: Pain de seigle du Valais AOC – PDO certified rye bread

The Valais region is a mountainous Swiss region, which is very well-known for its sunny climate, the diversity and the beauty of its landscapes and its quality of life, linked to a basket of typical artisan food products (such as wines, cheese, dry meat, fruits). The valley of the Rhône forms the central axis of the region, which is enclosed by mountain ranges at an altitude of more than 4000 metres. Tourism is nowadays the first industry of the region.

For centuries, the valaisan peasants lived in virtual self-sufficiency. Bread was made from rye, the only flour-bearing cereal adapted to the rigours of the alpine climate. The peasants could take the great loaves with them on their migrations with their cattle from the valley to the mountain pastures. Those days are gone but the rye bread of Valais is enjoying a revival, which is linked to changing fashions in eating habits and the importance attached to whole traditional cereals in a healthy and balanced diet but also to an exemplar construction of a regional collective organisation.

The initiative was launched in 1997 by a discussion group that gathered the two regional mills, two bakers of the Valais region (delegates of the regional bakers’ association), the director of the Chamber of agriculture and a high rank officer of the Ministry of agriculture of the Valais canton. At this first stage, there were no producers in the discussion group. The objectives of the initiators were quite different. The bakers were looking for a differentiation from the big retailers’ supermarkets (which have important bakery departments and a high market share in the sector). The mills, which are producing different types of flours for the national market, thought that diversifying to special rye flour would improve their competitive position against their main competitors. The regional institutions were eager to help the regional enterprises to survive and were also worried by the quick decrease of the rye production in the region, with a high risk of decline and disappearing of the traditional production of rye bread. An inter-professional association was built-up in 2001.

The initiative was a success and currently counts 40 producers, 2 mills and 48 regional bakers. It was registered as a PDO in 2004, despite strong oppositions from competitors who are selling industrial versions of the product. It is now facing a crucial scaling-up challenge, due to a high demand from consumers outside the production region. The entrance in the PDO alliance of the retailers’ regional bakery units may change the spirit of the initiative and lower strong positive effects on rural development.

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