Kambly SA

Head 25 miles due east of Bern on route 10 or 35 miles due west of Lucerne on route 10 and either way the two-lane road will bring you to Trubschachen, a sleepy little town of maybe 500 residents. Then again, how would one be able to sleep with the sweet smells coming from the Kambly factory in the middle of town. Kambly, founded here back in 1906, is one of Switzerland's largest (2003 revenues of $126 million, 460 employees) and best known makers of cookies and biscuits.

It isn't hard to find the place as the blue-colored, four-story, block-long factory/headquarters complex sits alongside the only road running through town. Railroad tracks pass along the backside of the facility.

I buzz a buzzer to be let in the building and then walk up to the second floor reception area. I introduce myself to the friendly receptionist and take a seat while she calls to find out who ended up with my letter of introduction sent a month earlier.

The walls of the reception area are white and furniture somewhat modernistic. The top of the long reception counter is glass with 22 boxes of various kinds of Kambly cookies on display underneath the glass. Four black chairs surround a coffee table displaying a Bern newspaper (Berner Zeitung) and a bowl full of individually wrapped servings of Bretzeli. What is a Bretzeli? The waffle-like cookie was the company's first product back in 1906. In a nearby glass display sits a black, somewhat battered-looking mini-suitcase used by founder Oscar R. Kambly to carry his edible goodies when going on sales trips.

Also in the same glass display as Oscar R. Kambly's suitcase are 25 cookie tins of varying age, size and designs. These tins comprise part of the company's art collection. Matter of fact, every year the company now comes out with special limited-edition tins designed by famous artists such as Mario Botta, Jean Tinguely, Ferdinand Gehr and Rolf Iseli.

Angelia Scalese, one of three assistants to CEO Anton von Weissenfluh and Chairman Oscar A. Kambly, answers my questions. About 300 people work here in the factory/head office. Employee parking is plentiful, smoking isn't allowed in the workplace and there's no formal dress code. There're no on-site recreational facilities–though they do have showers. During the summer some employees go for a swim in the nearby river.

The upstairs company cafeteria is big, bright and partly subsidized. As mentioned earlier, the town of Trubschachen isn't a very big place and choices of eating places are slim to none. Matter of fact, employees can bring there families to eat in the cafeteria and even order take-out for when they go home. Any employee perks? Substantial discounts in the company factory store at one end of the complex (open to the public).

As Scalese walks me around I notice the overhead lighting throughout the building. Why? The track-like lighting is enclosed in sheets of metal made to look like it's part of an overhead conveyor belt system–the kind used in factories.

I count one plant (real), note the laptop computer and boxes of Kambly cookies in CEO Weissenfluh's top floor corner office. His view out the window? The top of factory as it stretches into the distance.

Standing next to Scalese's desk, with the two other female assistants with earshot, I ask one final question, "can you usually tell what kind cookies they're making today by the smell in the air?". Scalese points to a small wicker basket containing three boxes of different Kambly cookies and says, "they bring us these everyday so we know which ones there're making and so we can do quality control". I laugh and say, "by quality control you mean you get to eat cookies everyday?". Scalese nods and all three (very slim) woman laugh. Before leaving I'm loaded down with boxes of cookies. By the way, those waffle-like cookies (Bretzeli) are great and are similar to potato chips in that you can't eat just one.

Kambly's cookies are even sold in the USA. Later in the year I'll be visiting Kambly's Swiss arch-rival; Wernli. Both use similar packaging and even the same colors in their respective logos (red and white–colors of the Swiss flag). Kambly's website: www.kambly.ch