Renata Georg interviewed by Migros magazine.

Alcohol vote

«I'm, hoping for ten yeses»

Renata Georg and four fellow Migros delegates set the ball rolling for the alcohol vote. Here, she explains what prompted her - and why she wouldn't mind a «patchwork» of regions either offering alcohol or not.

From
Kian Ramezani
Date
Format
Interview

Do you drink alcohol yourself? 

Renata Georg: Yes, occasionally. Generally at home and with guests. Also at restaurants or on holiday. 

Where do you buy it? 

Mostly at Coop or Denner. Occasionally at a wine merchant. 

You're seen as the initiator of this vote about the alcohol ban at Migros. How did that come about? 

Firstly, the question about alcohol sales has been mooted for a very long time. However, nobody had dared address it up to now, partly out of respect, because it needs to go through 32 different committees, each of which needs a two-thirds majority. That's a high bar to clear. 

Why did you decide to try nonetheless? 

After leshop.ch was renamed Migros Online, the Migros Assembly of Delegates voted in March 2020 to continue selling alcohol. I thought that this put a strain on our articles of incorporation because the online and offline worlds are increasingly merging. Those in favour say that it's what customers want. So I said, «Fine, let's ask our customers and start this democratic process».  

However, you still needed four like-minded co-initiators to make the proposal. Were they hard to find?

I knew that I could only ask delegates who I knew would definitely back my plan. 

Why? 

The proposal had to remain secret until it was ready to announce because the topic is so sensitive. I found my four fellow campaigners immediately. It's important to us that the initiative for this key question should come from cooperative members themselves rather than Migros management, as some in the media have falsely reported. 

What was the reaction to your proposal? 

Very varied. Quite a few people thanked us for finally pointing out and addressing the elephant in the room. Others thought that our timing was inopportune. After all, we were in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and Migros had other things to worry about. But then again, when is it ever the right time to ask such a question? Some people were also apparently a bit shocked that five delegates could initiate something like that. Of course, we were warned about how complicated it would be... 

… which is true. As you said, you have to get it through 32 different committees. 

That's right. And maybe this case, in particular, shows that the process is too complicated. Perhaps it needs streamlining. 

«This kind of paternalism isn't appreciated anymore.»

Renata Georg

You yourself are in favour of alcohol sales at Migros sales. Why? 

Our customers already decide for themselves where they buy what. And in these hectic times, many people would prefer to do all their shopping in one place at what is known as a «one-stop shop». I support freedom and the freedom to decide. I also see the economic aspect: We are foregoing many customers who could, for example, do their weekend shopping at Migros, but don't do so because it would mean going to a second shop for their beer and wine. In this case, we are not primarily foregoing the alcohol sales, but rather the rest of the shopping too. And yet we have so much to offer with our own-brand products, which we develop and manufacture in Switzerland. 

Do you also understand your opponents' arguments? 

In three years' time, Migros will be 100 years old - and that without alcohol. That makes it special, and I can understand that people want to preserve that. I can also understand the standpoint of the Blue Cross, namely that alcoholics appreciate the opportunity to shop at Migros. But the most powerful argument is the myth that Gottlieb Duttweiler was against alcohol and that the ban was therefore a core Migros value. 

You don't believe it then? 

Duttweiler was a clever businessman who sensed that this move would win over housewives, since many men drank away their earnings back then. Thankfully, those days are behind us. What's more, the Migros Group includes Denner, the number-two retailer on the Swiss alcohol market. This vote gives us an opportunity to adapt our articles of incorporation to reality because it's already happening at Migros. That would be more honest and thus also more credible. 

Shouldn't we recognise the fact that many people see the alcohol ban at stores as an important value in spite of the changing background?  

It's true that when I speak directly to people, their first reaction is to reject it. But things change as soon as you start delving deeper and ask whether people are really shopping at Migros because there's no alcohol on sale there. Or is it perhaps the great own-brand products, the value-for-money and the Culture Percentage? I think that those are the decisive Migros values.

What result do you hope for?

Ten yeses. But a two-thirds majority is a high bar to clear – incidentally one that wasn't introduced by Duttweiler. The alcohol ban has only been in the articles of incorporation since 1983, almost 20 years after the death of Migros' founder. I don't see the much-feared patchwork solution as a major problem. Our customers already know and understand that regional products, for example, differ from one cooperative to another and that large and small stores have different product ranges. In the end, if we only get a «Yes» in Geneva, where, as you know, only a simple majority is needed, we'll launch a pioneer project there, as is often the case at Migros. 

What would Duttweiler say about your endeavour? 

He was more of a businessman than many people assume today. What I admire most about him is that he was courageous, tried things out and sometimes even failed. I'm convinced that he would be pleased about this ballot. I would even go further: Duttweiler was fond of a glass of wine himself, but essentially said that «the man in the street» couldn't handle it, which is why there would be no alcohol at Migros. This kind of paternalism isn't appreciated anymore, and that wouldn't be lost on Duttweiler.

Renata Georg (60) is a business economist and works at a fiduciary office. She sits on the Board of the Migros Zurich cooperative and has been a member of the Assembly of Delegates of the Federation of Migros Cooperatives since 2016. She lives in Fällanden in the canton of Zurich, is married and has two adult children.