Swiss shoppers decide whether Migros will end founder’s alcohol ban

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss supermarket chain Migros, whose health-conscious founder banned the sale of alcohol when he founded the company in the 1920s, could soon sell wine, beer and liquor if co-op members vote to approve the move.

The alcohol ban was imposed in 1928, three years after chain founder Gottlieb Datwiler began his pioneering retail business by sending five vans containing only six essential items to sell directly to homes from village to village.

The 2.3 million members of the store-owning co-op can vote by June 4 on whether to change tradition at ubiquitous outlets and put liquor on shelves, a move opponents say would betray Duttweiler’s founding philosophy.

The Duttweiler, concerned about the welfare of his customers, banned both the sale of alcohol and tobacco from stores that arose from his initial truck business. Tobacco will still be banned, but the addition of alcohol to the shelves is of concern to some.

Addiction experts say it will remove a safe haven for shoppers for alcoholics. An opinion poll published by the newspaper Tages-Anzeiger in April showed that more than half of the nearly 10,000 Swiss respondents were against selling alcohol in Migros.

“Gottlib Dotweiler would have turned around in his grave if Migros sold alcohol now,” retired Willie Seigenthaler, 76, told Migros magazine on its website.

Initially, Duttweiler trucks sold coffee, soap, rice, coconut oil, sugar, and pasta. In 2021, the group, which also operates outside Switzerland, generated sales of nearly 29 billion Swiss francs ($30 billion).

Duttweiler’s socially conscious principles continue to guide business, which sponsors adult education and cultural activities. Stores have to cut prices when profits are too high.

Bike mechanic Stefan Zurbuchen, 35, is among those who oppose the sale of alcoholic beverages. “It is a dangerous drug, so there is no need to distribute in another supermarket,” he said.

The results of the voting will appear in mid-June.

(1 dollar = 0.9621 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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