Export to Switzerland? It's more interesting than you might think

Switzerland can be an interesting market for Finnish companies as well. Especially organic and sustainable products, digitalization and interest in Nordic lifestyle and products can offer business opportunities for Finnish companies. Read more about the Swiss expert's interview.

Q: Which sectors could interest Finnish companies?

A: In Switzerland, I would say clearly more than elsewhere, there is a growing demand for organic and sustainable products. To illustrate this, the share of the organic turnover represented 11.2% of the total consumption of foodstuffs in 2022, ranking Switzerland among the leading countries.

With the digitalisation of society and business, a major labour shortage in the IT sector is expected in Switzerland in the years to come. According to some studies, there will be a shortage of 36 000 informaticians by 2028.

In the field of lifestyle and food products, we notice that the Nordic way of life is quite popular in Switzerland: the love for wild nature, the high ethical standards and mutual respect are common values shared between the Nordics and Switzerland. This is also reflected in the affinity that Swiss customers have for Nordic products, such as furniture and gastronomy, especially for seafood products for which we certainly see room on the Swiss market.

Q: Can you share 3 ways on how to succeed in the Swiss market?

A: Just like in Switzerland, most of the companies in Finland are SMEs. If you are a Finnish SME reaching out towards a Swiss prospect who is also an SME, this will make contact a lot easier as you are talking from equal to equal.

By identifying opportunity gaps in terms of market needs or unavailability of specific products and services in Switzerland, you will more quickly capture the interest of a Swiss potential customer. If there is already a similar Swiss product on the market, this will be more difficult because Swiss consumers prefer to buy local products.

Try to lower the threshold towards a Swiss potential customer as much as possible. Swiss customers do not like to be assimilated with a German, a Frenchman or an Italian. Give your prospection the best chance by taking local specificities into account and, if possible, translating your offer in the mother tongue of your interlocutor to maximize your chances.

Q: What do you think are the 3 main challenges faced by Finnish companies when entering the Swiss market?

A: We have already assisted several clients from Finland. Finnish products and services are very often of high quality with a good degree of innovation. It also helps that Finland has a good reputation in Switzerland and that the business mentality is not that different from the Swiss. Yet I see a few challenges that we regularly point out to our Finnish customers:

Since Switzerland is a quite mature market, its attractiveness for foreign companies is high. This means that for some sectors, the competition can be quite tough. It then comes down to making a difference and drawing attention to your products and services as best as possible. Be clear in communicating and marketing the assets of your products and services, for example in terms of quality, innovation, sustainability.

When looking at the Swiss market, don’t just copy your export strategy to an EU country. Although Switzerland is located in the middle of Europe, you will quickly notice how different the market is! The fact that they are not a member of the EU, clearly has an effect. For example, import duties may apply (which will affect your price setting), a fiscal representative must be appointed for VAT reasons when providing services and specific rules apply if foreign workers are temporarily being posted for a project in Switzerland.

Companies that have not yet done business in Switzerland are sometimes frustrated by the decision-making process which is slower than in other European countries. This can largely be explained by the fact that the Swiss do not like to reconsider decisions that have been made. That is why they take the time to involve the relevant colleagues in the process.

Q: Can you tell us something about yourself and your professional experience?

A: I am a Belgian citizen, originating from the city of Antwerp. Perhaps because of this city’s open view of the world with its large port (the second in Europe) and the cosmopolitan diamond sector, I was fascinated by the international relations from an early age. For almost all my professional career, I have been working in the field of international trade promotion. I started to work at the Belgian Foreign Trade Board in Brussels, where I accompanied and advised many exporters, organised numerous economic missions around the world and realized several market studies. Afterwards I got the opportunity to work for international organisations such as UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) in Geneva and the World Bank for which I acted as Liaison Officer in Brussels.

Before I created my own business development company Prodigo, I was active as Trade Commissioner for Belgium in Switzerland for 7 years, gaining in-depth knowledge of the Swiss market and creating a vast network of economic actors in many sectors. Because I now work on a private basis, we can help our customers all the way to the end of the line, which makes them successful and us happy!

Michel Patteet is a managing partner in Prodigo (www.prodigo.ch), with an over 25 years proffessional experience in international trade promotion. Prodigo has helped customers from 15 countries to set foot in Switzerland, including from Finland.

Remember to check out and register for Michel’s upcoming event about doing business in Switzerland on 14th November!