28 February 2017

Karl Zuegg - jam and juice maker

Businessman turned family farm into international company

Karl Zuegg
Karl Zuegg
Karl Zuegg, the businessman who turned his family's fruit-farming expertise into one of Italy's major producers of jams and juices, was born on this day in 1915 in Lana, a town in what is now the autonomous province of Bolzano in Trentino-Alto Adige.

His grandparents, Maria and Ernst August Zuech - they changed their name to Zuegg in 1903 - had been cultivating fruit on their farm since 1860, when Lana was part of South Tyrol in what was then Austria-Hungary.  They traded at local markets and began exporting.

Zuegg and the company's other major brand names, Skipper and Fruttaviva, are among the most recognisable in the fruit products market in Italy and it is largely through Karl's hard work and enterprise.

He was managing director of the company from 1940 to 1986, during which time Zuegg became the first drinks manufacturer in Italy to make use of the ground-breaking Tetrapak packaging invented in Sweden, which allowed drinks to be sold in lightweight cardboard cartons rather than traditional glass bottles.

The family business had begun to experiment with jams in 1917 when austerity measures in Italy were biting hard and there was a need to preserve food.  Rather than throw away overripe apples, the family turned them into jam.

The Zuegg logo is well known in Italian grocery stores
The Zuegg logo is well known in Italian grocery stores
Their methods were successful with other fruits too and Zuegg jams went into mass production in 1923, achieving immediate success.

But it was not until Karl joined the board of the company in 1937 that the business began to expand on a large scale.

Under Karl's leadership, the Zuegg brand grew, with bigger production facilities and innovative technology. The company developed new products such as the Fruttino snack bar, a solid stick of quince jam enriched with vitamins that became a staple of children's school lunches throughout Italy.

The first Zuegg fruit juices arrived in 1954, with bottles of pear, peach and apricot juice soon becoming familiar items on the shelves of Italian grocery stores.

Fruit cultivation is an important part of Lana's economy
Fruit cultivation is an important part of Lana's economy
In the early 1960s, Zuegg intoduced the Fruttaviva jams, the first to be produced without the use of preservatives and dyes, and two years later, after opening a new plant in Verona - now the company's headquarters - became a supplier of fruit products for use in yogurt, pastries and ice cream.

It was in 1979, as Karl continually looked for innovations that would help grow the business further, that the company signed a deal for the Swedish company Tetrapak to supply its revolutionary cartons for Zuegg products.

Tetrapak's unique method, combining paper, polyethylene and aluminium, produced a lightweight packaging that not only kept fluids from leaking outwards. It also prevented bacteria from entering the product and, through the aluminium layer, protected the contents from deteriorating through exposure to light.

Selling drinks in these so-called 'briks' was a novelty in Italy and Karl Zuegg's vision made his company the market leader. Today, of course, such packaging is standard.

The original Zuegg headquarters in Lana
The original Zuegg headquarters in Lana
On the back of this success, Zuegg was able to open another Italian production plant at Luogosano, in the province of Avellino in Campania, in 1985.  Three years later, the Skipper line, selling 100 per cent pure fruit juices, was launched.

Today, Zuegg is an international company with six plants - two in Italy, two in Germany, one in France and one in Russia - and employs more than 500 staff.

As part of its campaign to promote healthy living, the company has a long history of sponsorship in sport, which has seen it provide financial backing for competitors in skiing and snowboarding, beach volleyball, basketball and tennis, and for two seasons promoted the brand as a main sponsor of Internazionale football club.

Karl Zuegg, who was made Cavaliere del Lavoro by the Italian government in recognition of his services to industry, died in 2005 in Lana, his home town, at the age of 91.  He is buried at the church of Santa Maria Assunta in Lana di Sotto.

Travel tip:

Lana is a small town and resort in the Adige valley in north-eastern Italy midway between Bolzano and Merano in the area of the Trentino-Alto Adige region also known as South Tyrol. The German influence on the area is so dominant that more than 90 per cent of the town's 12,000 residents speak German as their first language, and less than eight per cent Italian. It is popular with hikers and cyclists in the summer months, with a network of well defined cycle paths.  Lana is also home to the South Tyrol Museum of Fruit, which details the history of fruit cultivation in the area.

Hotels in Lana from Hotels.com

The Roman Porta Borsari in Verona is almost 2,000 years old
The Roman Porta Borsari in Verona is almost 2,000 years old 
Travel tip:

Verona is famous for the Arena, the Roman amphitheatre that stages open air concerts, and for Casa Giulietta, the house with the balcony said to be the one that featured in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  But there is more to the city's attractions.  In addition to the Arena, Verona is said to have more Roman ruins than any other Italian city and many are part of the everyday fabric of the city, including the Porta Borsari, with its two large arches and numerous smaller arches above, dating back to the 1st century, which straddles the entrance to Corso Porta Borsari, one of the city's main shopping streets.  There are many squares, including the charming Piazza dei Signori, which is surrounded by several fine buildings, including the Palazzo del Comune, the Palazzo Domus Nova and the Loggia del Consiglio.

More reading:

How Michele Ferrero's hazelnut spread became a worldwide phenomenon

Francesco Cirio and the canning revolution

A hotel empire that started with a single London coffee bar

Also on this day:

1940: The birth of F1 motor racing champion Mario Andretti

1942: The birth of record-breaking goalkeeper Dino Zoff

(Picture credits: Tractor in orchard by böhringer friedrich; Porta Borsari by Didier Descouens via Wikimedia Commons; Zuegg pictures from Zuegg company website)


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