Felix Richterich Ricola
Text: editorial staff ceo Magazine/Images: Markus Bertschi, Ricola AG, Laufen; Markus Bühler-Rasom, Zurich
Within the space of three generations, family-owned and operated Ricola evolved to become a world-leading provider of herbal bonbons – thanks to clever entrepreneurialism and successful innovations, as CEO Felix Richterich explains.
“We continue to produce in Switzerland because of our highly trained, long-standing workforce.”
One doesn’t happen to stumble across rural Basel’s Laufental every day of the week. But this somewhat remote nook of Switzerland is home to a successful family company whose products are known and fancied throughout the world: Ricola herbal cough drops. These throat soothers help even the most famous celebs to keep their perfect pitch – pop star Madonna, renowned tenor Placido Domingo, and the list goes on.
The first chapter of this success story starts in a humble bakery. Emil Richterich took over the shop in 1930 – virtually out of need. Those were tough economic times and he had a family to feed. Somehow. He planned to broaden the assortment of breads but also harboured a hankering for sweets. So about ten years later, he conjured up a recipe for candy cubes made out of 13 different herbs. Thus was laid the cornerstone for Ricola, the name being an acronym for Richterich and Co. Laufen. “My grandfather had the entrepreneur gene: he was an innovative, restless type of guy who liked to create things”, recalls Felix Richterich, who now represents the family’s third generation to run the company.
“My grandfather had the entrepreneur gene: he was an innovative, restless type of guy who liked to create things.”
Today, Ricola products are sold globally in more than 50 countries. Until the 1980s, the company generated almost two-thirds of its revenues with one single article: the original Ricola-brand herbal candy. But for the company to hold its own in the competitive world of sweets, new ideas were called for. “At Ricola, an innovation team selects the best proposals”, explains Richterich. In 2013 alone the company brought to market 17 new products, including a liquorice bonbon sweetened with stevia as well as liquid-filled herb drops in various flavours like “Glacier Mint” and “Honey Lemon”.
New flavour variations play a key role in these innovations – and according to Richterich, there are endless possibilities. But the novelties can also be introduced to address new areas of application. For instance, Ricola has developed a powder-filled bonbon with ginseng and vitamins – for that vitalising effect. And of course the form of the product can be changed. But not all of these innovations have been hits. For example, chewing gum didn’t work. Richterich regrets that. After all, from the twinkle in a flavourologist’s eye through to market readiness, a new article with a different taste takes about a year to develop. And if it requires a new technology, a prototype needs to be produced, its storage life tested, and the whole process drags on for up to three years.
“We sell only top-notch bonbons with the very best flavour profile.”
Ricola insists on quality. “We sell only top-notch bonbons with the very best flavour profile”, Richterich is convinced. The company uses natural ingredients to the greatest extent possible and has control over the entire production process. This Basel Land based family enterprise has been sponsoring herb cultivation in the Swiss mountain regions for more than 30 years now. All of the alpine herb growers apply bio methods and naturally forgo the use of pesticides. But not only the basic ingredients for the bonbons come from Switzerland; the end products are also made from start to finish in Laufental – and that won’t change in the future. “We have a highly trained, long-standing workforce”, Richterich emphasises as one of Ricola’s advantages.
That Ricola has evolved into a globally present enterprise is also attributable to another factor: the succession planning at this family company has always run smoothly and without conflicts. Other companies frequently falter when it gets to that point. Ricola has been very fortunate in this regard as each family member has found a place within the company according to their skills and inclinations. For instance, Ursula – Felix Richterich’s sister – discovered her passion for herbs and proceeded to develop the company’s herbal research garden. His brother Lukas is chairman of the family’s holding company, which is also involved in cultural endeavours: Ricola has built an outstanding collection of contemporary Swiss art including works by adherents of the Zurich school of concrete art, Richard Paul Lohse and Camille Graeser.
Also, cousins Eva and Markus Richterich hold a seat on the board of Ricola (Eva) and the family holding entity (Markus). And with Felix Richterich’s son, Raphael, who currently works in the Marketing department, the fourth generation of the family is already active at the company.
Thanks to good role planning, Ricola has cemented the foundation for its next 100 years of successful operation: the family members need to be of a like mind in matters that count and place the company’s interests above their own. “That’s the case with us”, says Richterich.
Felix Richterich is Chairman of the Board and CEO of Ricola. Earlier in his career at this family-owned and operated company, the 57-year-old graduate in business economics (University of Basel) took over the post of COO from his father, Hans Peter Richterich, in 1991. Last year, he won the ISM Award 2015 at the International Sweets and Biscuits Fair in Cologne, Germany. Felix Richterich is married and the father of two children.
With its workforce of roughly 400 employees, Ricola generates annual revenues in the vicinity of 320 million CHF (2014); more than 90 per cent of that total is attributable to foreign sales. The Laufen, Baselland based family company sees its greatest future potential in Asia and Latin America. But also in Europe, e.g. England, the company is looking to expand its market position. In any case, profitable growth is the goal. Acquisitions are out of the question.