From sausage manufacturer to market leader for meat alternatives

In an interview, Godo Röben tells how he made the sausage manufacturer "Rügenwalder Mühle" a pioneer for meat substitute products. He is speaking at this year's Swiss Brand Congress.

Godo Röben speaks at a symposium. (Image: zVg.)

More and more people are consciously opting for a plant-based diet - for ethical, health or ecological reasons. This also has an impact on the food industry.

As longstanding managing director of the meat processor "Rügenwalder Mühle," Godo Röben implemented the transformation back to a brand. Today, according to its own statements, the company is one of the market leaders for meat alternatives.

Röben will be a guest on stage at the Swiss Brand Congress on June 14 in Zurich. In an interview, he talks in advance about headwinds, gut feelings, and why no industry can afford not to act sustainably anymore.


Godo Röben, when did you recognize the "trend" towards plant-based nutrition and how did you react to it? 

Godo Röben: For several years now, there have been many arguments in favor of all of us eating less animal products. The reasons differ into altruistic reasons - avoiding animal suffering - which keeps many people from eating animal products or the effects that the breeding of 150 billion animals have on the climate. But also more selfish reasons like their own health keep many people from continuing to eat so many animals.


What resistance - both inside and outside the company - had to be overcome in order to achieve a climate-compatible transformation of the "Rügenwalder Mühle" brand?

Imagine. People have been producing meat and sausage from animals for almost 200 years, and have also settled into a defensive posture there: that the animals are doing well after all, that the climate isn't so bad, and that meat is a piece of life force after all. And then someone - from management - comes along and says that we should rethink these things and that vegan sausage might be a good idea. Then there is already a lot of headwind in a company. You can only calm this headwind with extensive and recurring information. And above all - with success. It's like football. There is no substitute for victories. And it simply helped that we were successful right from the start. But the three years until the start were challenging.


What critical brand and communication decisions did you have to make along the way?

Many agencies and also market research were in favor of launching the vegetarian products under their own brand. But my gut told me that it was right to launch the products under Rügenwalder Mühle, because I thought that otherwise the mill would become a "bad bank" - animal products under the mill and the hip, vegan products under another brand. That would have been the end of the wonderful mill in the medium term. In my eyes, it was better that we continue to develop the traditional brand through these modern products.


What role does sustainability play in general for today's food brands? In your view, does this primarily affect suppliers of classic animal products or, in the end, does it affect everyone?

What role sustainability plays for brands or companies can be compared to the question of what role breathing plays for life. I'm sure that no market player can afford to ignore the globally valid, sustainable rules of the game anymore. It's now more about how sustainable you are and how authentically you implement these goals.


How can companies transform themselves in a planned way instead of being surprised by forced disruption? What are the advantages of such an approach?

Every industry, every company knows its "black spots" best. The real way forward is to stop hiding these "black spots" and to address them openly and honestly and then find solutions. Also like we are doing in the animal industry right now: We address the fact that we kill and eat far too many animals, we address the problems that this business model has - climate change, animal suffering, diseases for the consumer - and we then offer better food without animal origin.

Godo Röben is a guest at Swiss Brand Congressthe largest industry meeting for brand decision-makers, service providers and media representatives. At June 14, 2023 the industry meets at The Dolder Grand Hotel Zurich under the motto "Brand Management in Challenge". The content of the congress has been expanded to include the Tech and Digital Stage. 75 speakers, 23 hours of program and numerous well-known brands await the audience. Info under:

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