Image of Matthias Wunderlin

Interview with Matthias Wunderlin

«We do not want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment»

How good is the nutritional quality made by a farmer, how sustainable is a entrecôte? Migros leaves no more questions unanswered thanks to M-Check and Nutri-Score. Head of Marketing Matthias Wunderlin explains why Migros does this.

Kian Ramezani

Matthias Wunderlin, Migros is committed to transparency. Why?

We see that more and more people want to consume sustainable, healthy and regional food. It is very difficult to reconcile all this when shopping. The products exist, but there has been a lack of transparency for many of them. With an own-brand share of 80%, we as Migros are in a position and duty-bound to disclose this information in an easy-to-understand way: our customers receive a classification of sustainability and nutritional quality for all of our 250 own brands. In this way, we want to help people to be more informed and self-determined in their consumption. And for us it is an additional incentive to keep improving the products.

All ingredients and nutritional values as well as the origin were already printed on each product before. Might there not be a danger of overwhelming consumers?

On the contrary. We keep it simple to prevent them from being overwhelmed. The M-Check works with five stars, like the ones you know from App Store or Google reviews. The Nutri-Score also provides the consumer with a five-point scale of letters and colours. This allows for very quick information about the packaging. Those who want to know more can look up online how the rating of a particular product is arrived at in detail.

Are you not worried that products with fewer stars or a red F will now sell less?

We have not quantified whether the new transparency could have an impact on our sales, either positively or negatively. We do it because we believe in it. By the way, anyone who drinks Coca-Cola knows that there is a lot of sugar in it and that it is not necessarily healthy. But people still consume it. Studies have shown, however, that CO2 labelling leads to more sustainable purchasing behaviour, even among consumers who do not attach great importance to the issue. That should be our goal in the long term.

To put it the other way round: Are products that score well on sustainability not usually organic and more expensive anyway?

Not necessarily. Organic products have many advantages when it comes to pesticide use and animal husbandry. However, their carbon footprint is no better than that of conventional products. More animal welfare usually results in higher prices, because production is also more costly. All animal products from Switzerland have at least three stars because they comply with our comparatively strict animal welfare laws. Less expensive meat from abroad currently gets one or two stars. Over the medium term, we want to achieve three stars here as well. We have already been successful with chicken from Brazil or salami from Italy, and we are working intensively on other products. It is important to us to offer a good selection across all categories and for every wallet.

«Personally, I am always amazed at the small impact that transport and packaging have on the carbon footprint of a product.»

Matthias Wunderlin

You mentioned the carbon footprint of meat. Beef, whether Organic or M-Budget, always gets the lowest rating here. Does a five-star system like this make any sense at all?

Improving the carbon footprint of beef is challenging, not to say impossible. That is simply the reality. But meat should not «only» be about CO2. It is about jobs and local agricultural structures that are important for Switzerland. It is about pastures that cannot be used in any other way and would otherwise become overgrown. And last but not least, it is also about enjoyment. And we do not want to spoil that for anyone …

… but the climate dilemma also plays a role?

I do not see a dilemma, because there are alternatives within the meat segment. For example, we have Optigal chicken with a three-star carbon footprint. Feeding the chickens soya from Italy instead of South America makes a huge difference here. And even with beef, we are working on options: what is known as hybrid meat has a better carbon footprint because a quarter of it consists of vegetables. It will hit our shelves later this summer.

Can you think of products with ratings that might surprise people?

Personally, I am always amazed at the small impact that transport and packaging have on the carbon footprint of a product, whereas manufacturing has a much greater impact. In the case of tinned tomatoes from Italy, for example, transport accounts for 10%, tinplate packaging for 27%, but cultivation for 63%.

And what about the Nutri-Score?

There are also a few surprises. Everyone knows that chocolate contains a lot of sugar and fat. By contrast, jam, crunchy muesli and cereal bars seem to be harmless at first glance. Take a second look and what you see is their red Nutri-Score. We promised transparency and it can sometimes be surprising. For that matter, we have already reduced the sugar and salt content in many of our own products and our developers continue to work on improved recipes.

«Of course, sustainability does not stop at CO2 and animal welfare.»

Matthias Wunderlin

Have M-Check and Nutri-Score changed your personal shopping behaviour?

I think this process has been going on for some time. The discussions around the family table are different from when I was a child: climate change and meat consumption were not topics then, but they are now. We are talking about full utilisation, i.e. «nose-to-tail», not just the fillet piece. Personally, I like blood and liver sausages, but my children are not quite there yet. But I hope they will catch on.

And in your role as the top marketing officer at Migros? Are there products that cannot actually be supported and whose stars now reveal this brutally?

There are products that we are reviewing. I mentioned earlier the small impact of transport on the carbon footprint. There is one exception, and that is transport by air. We already had labels like «Mexico by air» on the packaging, but now we are revealing what this means specifically: flown-in asparagus suddenly only has two stars in the carbon footprint and transport accounts for 96% of the CO2 footprint. This will result in changes in customer behaviour, but will also intensify our search for alternatives. We are reducing air transports every year, and our target is zero.

The Nutri-Score is widely used throughout Europe, whereas the M-Check is Migros’ own initiative. Why not have an industry solution here too?

Right now, we are the only ones who offer something like this. We would very much welcome it if the M-Check were adopted by others and are also open to an industry solution. The scale with five possible stars is our idea, but the underlying calculations of the life cycle assessments are scientific standard. Other retailers would arrive at the same conclusions, as well as on animal welfare. It is important for us to keep it simple and to make all the details available online.

So far we have animal welfare and climate – which aspects will be M-Checked next?

Of course, sustainability does not stop at CO2 and animal welfare. Water and pesticides are other important issues that will also be put to popular votes this year. For me, it is clear that they must become as much a part of the M-Check as the social working conditions associated with products from overseas. Here we, and above all science, still have challenging homework to do in order to create a reliable foundation of data.

Nutri-Score: Guidance for comparing foods

The Nutri-Score describes at a glance the nutritional quality of a food, including the content of sugar, salt, fat and unsaturated fatty acids. How good is the nutritional quality of a product really? The answer is not always straightforward. Migros is creating transparency here and is the first major Swiss retailer to introduce the Nutri-Score on all its own brands. To make it even easier for you to choose the right food. 

M-Check: Sustainable shopping made easy

How sustainable is a product really? The answer is not always straightforward. Many things are already well in hand. But nobody talks about the rest. We thought we could do better. And started working on improving the M-Check Step by step, we are introducing a sustainability scale on all 250 own brands and labels. This rates the various dimensions of sustainability, such as animal welfare or climate, from one to five stars. Contradictions in the individual dimensions are also clearly displayed. That makes the M-Check 100% transparent.