Rivella's history is Switzerland's history

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From the idea …

In 1949 a young Swiss man advertised for "orders from Swiss companies wishing to gain a foothold in America"; he was offering to find new markets for anyone helping to finance his journey there. When he set off, he had in his luggage a recipe for a kind of whey beer originating from the estate of a milk biologist from Zug.  

The young man returned two years later, the recipe still in his possession. In the land of wall-to-wall sugared drinks, people just could not grasp the concept of a drink based on whey – unlike Switzerland, a country where cows, cures and whey baths are commonplace. 

… to the invention …

That young man’s brother came across the recipe, and it aroused his curiosity. This was Robert Barth, studying law and about to qualify. He bought the rights to the concoction and experimented until he finally produced a soft drink to his liking: a "non-alcoholic dietary beverage containing valuable lactoserum and aromatised with natural fruit and herb essences – delicious and perfectly suited to liquid diet regimens".

… to its production …

In 1951, the young entrepreneur founded the Milkin-Institut Robert R. Barth, bought some second-hand machinery, set it up in a former wine store in Stäfa, canton Zurich, gathered a 14-man team about him and, in 1952, went into production. It was not long before he had 250 customers – including restaurants and wholesalers – in the town and dotted along Lake Zurich. Demand grew.

… to the trade name …

Robert Barth was preparing for something big. Together with specialists, he paid meticulous attention to the design of the name, the typescript and the graphic elements. Inspired by the Italian word rivelazione, meaning revelation, he called his product Rivella.

… to success …

Demand soared. Robert Barth, by now a doctor in law, found himself having to move his company to purpose-built production and administration premises in centrally located Rothrist, Canton Aargau. Rivella was ready for growth.

… to a sense of identity …

Dr. Robert Barth had a real feel for marketing. To start with, whey was a mainstream by-product of a rural-based economy such as Switzerland's. It was also healthy – which explains why Dr. Barth deliberately focused on the twin themes Switzerland and Health (to which he appended Sport) from the word go. He grew Rivella in such a way as to reflect the image the Swiss have of themselves: distinctly different, better, healthier, rich in tradition – a special case, and one that is successful.

… to its expansion …

Dr. Barth had founded Rivella International AG before the move to Rothrist – this is the company that owns the Rivella brand and supervises the manufacturing, distribution and trademark rights around the world. The first pallets of Rivella went to the Netherlands in 1957 – to the company’s licensing partner Coöperatieve Condensfabriek Friesland (ccf) in Leeuwarden. Other territories would follow, but the Netherlands would always remain Rivella’s strongest foreign market.

… to setting trends …

1958 saw Rivella acquire a little sister: Rivella Blue was the world’s first-ever low-calorie beverage, coming a full 25 years before something similar started lapping at Europe's shores, courtesy of the land of wall-to-wall sweet drinks. In those days of Elvis fever, Rivella eschewed the idea of going trendy and adopting Anglo-Saxon attitudes to get the message across – it simply went blue.

… in a spirit of enterprise …

At the beginning of the 1960s Dr. Barth returned from an Australian holiday with a small amount of passion fruit juice and a large measure of enthusiasm for that exotic fruit. He was soon to communicate his passion to Rivella fans: 1964 saw Passaia launched to a grateful public.

›› More on the history of Passaia (Passaia.ch)

… and involvement …

Rivella was very much committed to supporting Swiss sport, not only because it was good marketing, but because the company wanted to show that it shared the aims of the community in which it operated – the credibility of the latter without a doubt reinforcing the former. Rivella became a member and patron of the Schweizer Sporthilfe Foundation and supported Swiss Ski, the Swiss Olympic Team and the Swiss Unihockey Association. The company’s Sports & Events department was already very active in sporting events and concert organisation in the 1960s – not just providing catering and beverage backing, but also technical help and a sports equipment loan facility.

… to credibility …

Rivella has impressed itself on the public’s consciousness through its decades-long involvement – as provider of the official drink – with the Swiss National Ski teams, Swiss National Unihockey teams and Swiss Olympic Team. Less high profile, but more immediately relevant, was the company’s generous and constant commitment to youth sport and the nurture of young sporting talent. Dr. Barth assumed the chairmanship of the Schweizer Sporthilfe Foundation in 1977.

... to new vistas …

1983 saw the company acquire the makers of Michel fruit juice. Rivella had been marketing Grapillon grape juice since the 1970s and took Michel under its wing. As a result, its ten fruit juices started making waves in the marketplace, and sales grew from an initial 800,000 litres to today’s ten million or so litres. Later to appear was the exotic refresher Tinga, which expanded the rich palette of fruit flavours. Rivella also developed the hypotonic beverage Rivi Marathon for the sports market.

… in the vanguard …

In 1993 Rivella was the first Swiss beverage manufacturer to gain ISO-9001 quality certification. The company was already one of the few drinks producers already to be certified in accordance with the IFS’s strict quality and safety standards.

Quality awareness was not restricted to the bottling plant: a Switzerland-wide, finely tuned distribution system guaranteed the quick and prompt supply of all Rivella products to thousands of customers in the hospitality sector and the retail trade.

… to a blockbuster …

1995 saw Rivella launch Mivella, thus enabling Migros customers to satisfy their appetite for a healthy whey-based beverage. In 2008 Rivella replaced Mivella on Migros' shelves. The Swiss national drink is now to be found throughout the supermarket's stores. In 1999 came another milestone with the launch of Rivella Green, made using green tea extracts. This completed Rivella’s colour triumvirate at that time.

… to diversity …

Rivella Green was far from being the only successful launch in the 1990s, which also saw the appearance of a range of Michel Functional Drinks: Bodyguard, Take it Easy, Beauty Colada, Harmony, Cranberry and Orange Premium. Rivella also acquired fruit juice dispensing specialist Fruchthof AG. The product palette grew, but Rivella always took pains to ensure that nothing jeopardised the strength and standing of the Rivella brand.

… to a change of generation …

Dr. Robert Barth built up and directed the company for 45 years, displaying an immense flair for enterprise. Autumn 2000 saw him pass the baton to his eldest son, Alexander Barth, who assumed the chairmanship of the holding company. This coincided with a tightening up of the operational structures: what had been three separate business units (the Swiss market, foreign markets and Rivella Holding) were now united within one division.

A natural change of generation right across a group’s companies, undertaken at the right time and without any outside pressure, is something relatively unusual in these days of globalised business. But it speaks volumes about the sincerity of the company.

… with a fighting spirit …

The new millennium brought with it a removal of barriers, an internationalisation of trade and a concentration of the retail trade with fewer wholesalers. Aggressive advertising by certain foreign retail chains led to intense downward price pressure and a fall in brand loyalty. Many manufacturers gave way under the pressure – Rivella resisted, and instead went out of its way to point up the historical profile of the brand. After all, the childhood memories of countless Swiss were bound up with the taste of Rivella – and the company had no intention of abandoning that customer base.

… into the future …

In 2007, 55 years after its founding, Rivella itself underwent refreshment, with a dynamic new look featuring a revitalised logo and a new bottle shape. Rivella Green now contains 50 per cent less sugar and tastes fresher. And the oranges used in Michel juices are now exclusively Max Havelaar-sourced.

… to the other beverage …

Rivella founder Dr. Robert Barth passed away in 2007, but his pioneering spirit lives on in the company – and with it, a delight in innovation. Rivella, for instance, launched the "other Rivella" in 2008: Rivella Yellow. This plant-derived product benefits from an outstanding taste, is light and refreshing, and it does you good. It's perfect anytime you want to simply kick back and rebalance your energies.

… that's a tradition at Rivella.

From the time when the young Robert Barth began working on his rivelazione, his revelation, things have changed: now, something in the region of one hundred million litres of beverages leave the Rothrist bottling plant every year. Rivella is number two in the Swiss soft drinks market with a share worth 19 per cent. And 20 million litres are consumed abroad.

What has not changed is the people. A family enterprise must continue to be run on lean, efficient principles, and it must continue to be borne and run by people whose visions and zest for life are capable of inspiring and stimulating the workforce, the company and thus the products. The workforce, after all, is composed of real people – just like customers – and real people choose life. Rivella.

Rivella AG: Corporate film

Rivella Blue: The first low-calorie beverage

Contemporary sources: corporate films from earlier years