Sources minerales Henniez SA

It's 11:10 AM as I cycle up to a roundabout and spot a directional sign saying the village of Henniez lies straight ahead. I figure within ten minutes I'll be at the headquarters of Sources minerales Henniez, one of Switzerland's largest suppliers of alcohol-free drinks. With only $134 million in revenues (2003), this company has managed to maintain market share leadership in Switzerland's bottled mineral water war. That's pretty remarkable when you consider Henniez's competitors include global water players Nestle, Danone and Coca-Cola.

Henniez, a village of maybe 200, lies about halfway between Lausanne and Fribourg in a small valley with steep hillsides. Just as I'm about to cycle forward from the roundabout I spot a red Swiss cycle route sign with the name "Henniez" and the arrow pointing to the left instead of forward. Hmm, I've followed these Swiss cycling routes all over Switzerland and found they usually provide an alternative, less-traveled route way of getting from one destination to another. Though I'm puzzled as to why the Swiss cycling sign points to the left (meaning it leads up the steep hillsides) I elect to go that way. Soon I'm huffing and puffing up a very steep road loaded with sharp switchbacks. I keep going up and up as I figure it must be a back way into the village. It's 30-minutes later when pouring sweat and at the top of this very steep hillside that I've come to the realization that some mischievous idiot had switched the Swiss cycling route sign to point in the wrong direction. Jeez, I wanted to get to the company before noon because in Switzerland most companies close down for lunch.

It's 11:55 AM when I finally arrive at the front doors of Henniez's two-story head office. A long line of flags on flag poles mark the front perimeter of the property (I find out later each is a canton flag—Switzerland has 26 cantons which are similar to states in the USA). If I had followed straight ahead from the roundabout I would have been here at 11:15. I check in with the receptionist and she says its lunch time and just about to lock the front doors. The receptionist calls her boss, who shows up and in turn calls his boss, CEO Nicolas Rouge. I'm in luck as Rouge invites me to nearby conference room for lunch and to answer my questions.

While munching on a delicious pretzel-like sandwich filled with ham and gulping down samples of various Henniez drinks I go through my list of questions with Rouge. Directly behind this two-story headquarters (built in 2000) stands an immense (larger than two football fields) facility where water and juice drinks are bottled. About 320 people work here. Employee parking is plentiful, smoking is allowed in the workplace and there's no formal dress code. There's a nice employee company cafeteria where one can sit outside and eat, it's one hour to Geneva's airport, ten minutes to the nearest freeway, covered parking for commuting cyclists and, though there're are no recreational facilities--showers are available. Any unusual employee perks? Free bottled water and juice drinks.

In the reception area stands a large cooler filled with a potpourri of the company's various drinks and visitors can help themselves to samples. On a wall near the reception counter hang several pictures including one showing an aerial view of the site. There's also a framed photo of Edgar Rouge, the father of Nicholas, who passed away several years ago. Nicolas succeeded his father as CEO. Henniez is a publicly-traded company with the Rouge family controlling over 61% of the shares. Just by looking at the photo of Edgar Rouge you could tell he was a nice guy and methinks that explains why Nicolas is also a nice guy.

Before my arrival Rouge had checked out the "tasty goodies" section on my website and saw that I liked wine tarts. So, for dessert we eat scrumptious wine tarts Rouge purchased earlier in the week from a bakery in a neighboring village (note: I asked for the name of the bakery and since it was on my route, I later make a pit stop for several more of the delectable goodies).

About a quarter mile from here gushes the spring which has been supplying the company with its water for 99 years. Yep, big doings will be going on here next year ( 2005) as the company celebrates its 100th birthday. The 42-year old Rouge grew up in the village of Henniez and still lives here with his wife.

The head office is connected to the bottling plant via a covered walkway. Pascal Rouge, Director of Technology & Production and, brother of CEO Nicolas Rouge, gives me a tour of the huge and noisy facility.

Nothing fancy about CEO Rouge's large second floor corner office. I note the computer, family pictures and quite a few bottles of Henniez mineral water in varying sizes. The view out his window? The nearby hillside.

Before setting off I'm loaded down with bottles of Henniez mineral water. The two Rouge brothers stand next to my bike for a photo shot for their in-house company publication but, before the shot is taken Nicolas takes matters into his own hands by vanquishing the "other" brand of bottled war I'm sporting on my bike and replacing it with a bottle of Henniez.

Though it's only in French or German, the company's website is: