The Distillerie Louis Morand & Cie SA in martigny

Valais / Wallis Swiss

1889 - 2019

130 years of a local family business

  1. Right from the very beginning, in 1889 in Martigny, the Distillerie Morand has been closely tied to its local area. Its devotion to the region, together with its expertise and its continuous thirst for quality, are just some of the ingredients that have allowed this family business to flourish across the generations and adapt to the changing times and evolving attitudes to alcohol consumption.

    The distillery produces liqueurs, lemonades, syrups, pomace brandies and eaux de vie, including the renowned Williamine®, made from the Williams pear. As well as selling its own products, the family business also distributes other brands’ drinks to hotels, cafés, restaurants and shops in Valais. Throughout the 20th century, beverages such as beers, aperitifs and Swiss mineral waters have featured in the company’s catalogue.

  2. But the Distillerie Morand is more than just its products; it is the story of a family and the four generations who have worked to preserve and pass on their forebears’ know-how. Driven by the characters who have headed up the company, it has spread its wings beyond its native Valais to the rest of Switzerland and abroad.

    Today, the Distillerie Morand’s product range still includes liqueurs made according to the recipes developed by its founder in the late 19th century. Its ability to innovate while respecting tradition is down to its sense of independence, loyalty, pragmatism and trust, and its drive to preserve and develop the family’s legacy.

Louis Morand: developing the business, recipes and premises 

Distilling was already widespread in Valais when 22-year-old Louis Morand opened a distillery in Martigny-Combe in 1889. While initially established as a partnership with his brother Auguste, a year later he incorporated it as a company using his own name as the business name. Initially, he distilled pomace brandies and plant-based beverages such as absinthe and genepi, but at the turn of the last century, he launched Grand St-Bernard, a liqueur made according to a recipe he had been given by the monks of the Great St Bernard Hospice. It was around this time that he developed some of his own liqueurs, including Elixir du Cervin and Simplon. 

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    For Morand, it was all about using the plants and fruits as they were: no essences or extracts were involved, unlike with certain other distillers of the time.

    An 1894 article in the Echo de Genève et du Léman tells us a little more about Louis Morand's work ethic:

    « On a recent trip to Martigny, I took the opportunity to visit the distillery of Mr Louis Morand, the inventor and manufacturer of ‘Liqueur du Simplon’. I was keen to find out more about the production of this excellent liqueur, whose superiority and rare qualities I have often had the fortune to enjoy. Indeed, Simplon deserves to be known. It is derived from Alpine plants and its base is made from honey, whose nutritional and, in particular, digestive properties we are all familiar with. (...) It took him no fewer than four years of work, experimentation and trials to achieve the excellent product known nowadays as ‘Liqueur du Simplon’. »

    The recipe soon had people talking about Louis Morand beyond the borders of the local canton, with the liqueur picking up a medal at the world’s fair held in Bordeaux in 1895. The distiller’s efforts were also rewarded at the 1900 Paris Exposition, the 1906 Milan International, and the 1914 Swiss national exhibition in Bern. Working with local juniper and gentian plants, Morand devised the recipe for his Elixir du Cervin and Bon Valaisan. It is no surprise that, from his location in the heart of a wine-growing region, he also chose to distil a grape brandy. Fine liqueurs, vermouth and various eaux de vie completed his product range. The Swiss absinthe ban of 1910 was something the company brushed off relatively easily as its existing stock meant that it could continue to sell its absinthe alongside other products.

    The distillery relocated to its current premises in Martigny in 1900. With his wife Mathilde ever by his side, Louis Morand created numerous recipes, prepared his fruits, distilled, bottled and labelled his lemonades and other specialities, visited clients, made deliveries, and was very active politically and elsewhere. Not only did he found the distillery, he also developed it, created its recipes, established a distribution network, and cemented his products’ prestige. The legacy of all of these things can still be felt today. His premature death in 1921 saw his 26-year-old son André taking over the business.

André Morand: the rise of distribution and industrialisation 

The transition from small-scale production to an industrial business took place under the stewardship of André Morand. He expanded the range of liqueurs, syrups and lemonades and developed the distribution side of the business with the company’s own products as well as those of other brands. Name any beverage – other than wine – and you can bet that it has featured in the Morand catalogue at some point. 

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    The Distillerie Morand became the holder of numerous Swiss drinks trademarks, including the aperitif Bitter des Diablerets, the Aigle-Lithinée and Henniez-Lithinéemineral waters, the carbonated drink Romanette, and the Brasseries Beauregard and Cardinal beers. The range also includes foreign products such as Moët champagne, the aperitif Byrrh, and even Coca-Cola, which André Morand first began distributing for the Bas Valais region in 1950.

    From the 1920s onwards, counterfeit bottles of Marc de Dôle and the liqueurs Simplon, Grand St-Bernard and Elixir du Bon Valaisan began circulating on the market. As these are registered trademarks, the company encourages consumers to only buy these liqueurs if they come in Morand-branded bottles.

    André Morand also modified the company’s premises to scale up production. He expanded both the buildings and the cellars and adapted the equipment and installations, ensuring that the company could remain in its home town while growing to enter new markets in Switzerland and beyond. He added to the core range with flavoured lemonades such as Oranjo and Abricolo, and an aniseed aperitif called Morandine.

    During the war, sugar was rationed. In response, the distillery had to reduce the amount of sugar in its drinks. It also struggled to get hold of enough glass. Ever since the 1932 federal law on alcohol was brought in, professional distilleries have been required to hold a licence. The new law also imposed an alcohol tax that resulted in the price of alcohol-based products doubling. The company’s stock meant that it was able to still offer products at half price for a number of months.

    At the end of the 1940s, André Morand began distilling Poire Williams eau de vie. Its subtle, fruity scent won over palates and markets. Williamine® was born. Morand acquired the trademark rights from a Genevan distillery that had been using the name. He registered the trademark in 1953, giving the company exclusive rights to the name, and ensured international protection for Williamine® from 1956. It quickly became Europe’s favourite Poire Williams eau de vie and was an instant hit both in Switzerland and abroad. Williamine® offered a new outlet for fruit growers in Valais. Orchards began growing more Williams pears and the variety soon became one of the most popular in Valais.

    The distillery’s employees felt a strong sense of loyalty towards André Morand. He always made sure to maintain strong links with local café and restaurant owners and was heavily involved in the local community, including as a member of Martigny Carnival’s organising committee. It was because of this that the distillery would build a float for the parade each year. A founding member of FC Martigny and the Swiss Alpine Club’s Monte-Rosa section, André Morand was also a very generous man. His pioneering attitude saw him set up a company pension fund long before the Swiss workplace pensions law was introduced. Supported by his wife, Anne-Marie, he was always prepared to help those who were down on their luck or suffering from illness at a time when the welfare state was still in its infancy. The death of his wife in 1958 affected him greatly. André’s heart was no longer in the business and so he handed over the reins to his children Louis Morand, as the new CEO, and Colette Vocat as a partner in the business.

Louis Morand: Williamine® and the quality credo 

Louis Morand continued on the path set out by his father, developing the distillery's markets and network of foreign distributors – many of whom would go on to become family friends – which saw the business thrive. Williamine® and the company’s many other products were distributed on a much larger scale. 

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    And Louis Morand excelled at his work. Throughout his career, he placed great emphasis on the quality of both the fruit and the finished product. He kept meticulous notes about everything from the harvest to the number of kilos of fruit stored, the yields obtained and the taste of the final product.

    He was also very active in the local cultural and sporting community. He developed partnerships with major businesses, including Chocolat Suchard. His industry involvement on both a local and national level underpinned his constant quest to develop products and maintain their quality. At the end of the 1960s, alongside Germanier, the Vétroz-based producer of the liqueur Bon Père William, he introduced a common quality standard for pear eau de vie. Its requirements were: for the fruits to meet certain standards in terms of their character, quality and provenance; for them to be distilled on Valaisan soil; and for the product to be submitted to the cantonal laboratory for a chemical analysis and taste tests. This standard provided the blueprint for the future AOP (protected designation of origin) certification and the experience led to the company playing an important role in drawing up the supporting documents for the AOP applications for Valais pear eau de vie (2001) and Abricotine (2003).

    Louis Morand was always keen to encourage fair working conditions, and attended local employers’ meetings from the mid-60s onwards. These meetings between the managers of various companies based in Martigny (Louis Morand & Cie, Caves Orsat SA, Marti Matériau SA, Veuthey & Cie SA, and Migros Valais) provided a forum for issues such as working conditions, social security, recruitment and employee training.

    Morand’s strong market presence initially held up fairly well in the face of the tough economic climate of the 1990s, but sales gradually decreased and stock began to pile up. Eau de vie and liqueurs were no longer considered essentials and so, when recession hit, they were the first to suffer. With consumers increasingly turning to large supermarkets, the distribution business was also hit.

The fourth generation and rewriting the company’s strategy 

It was in the midst of this challenging context – poor economic conditions, a drop in alcohol consumption, and new tax rules coming into force – that the fourth generation took the helm in the 2000s. Few medium-sized distilleries survived. In 2004, as the new drink drive limit of 0.5 milligrams per millilitre was introduced, after-dinner liqueurs began to go out of vogue and eaux de vie found themselves ailing. The company needed to restructure and win over new markets. An external CEO was appointed in 2008, but the Morand family retained a strong presence both in operations and on the board of directors. The company's long-standing retail arm was let go in 2015 in order to focus on Morand’s own-brand products – syrups, cocktails, eaux de vie, whose alcohol content was reduced to 30%, and even eau-de-vie-based sauces – and their development. In 2015 the company entered an exciting new phase when it acquired Rostal Herbes Aromatiques Grand-St-Bernard SA, bringing it closer to one of its own iconic beverages, Grand St-Bernard liqueur.

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    Developing new products is very important and takes place not only within the company but also in partnership with regional movers and shakers, resulting in innovations such as the Williamine® ice creams and the Valaisan pear gin. Beyond its products, the company is keen to pass on its expertise by offering workshops, tours, events and team-building sessions based around spirits and syrups. Working in conjunction with restaurants has led to the creation of original recipes based on the distillery’s products.

    Morand is continuing to develop while retaining its original values and the elements that have contributed to its success for over a century: quality products, strong local roots, partnerships, and supporting the local community.

    Morand: a common thread running through its history

    Morand’s longevity is down to several things. Each CEO has, in their own way, continued the work of the previous generation by respecting its know-how and recipes while facing up to the challenges of their own era. The involvement of the Morand family in the economy, politics, culture and society of Martigny and the region as councillors, members of umbrella federations, sponsors and patrons has been significant. At one time or another the football club, hockey club, carnival, Fondation Gianadda, and even the Verbier festival have received the support of members of the Morand family.

    Strong social engagement is also central to the company. Long-term distillery employees are recognised for their loyalty, with gestures such as a gold watch being awarded to a Mr Kittel in 1943 in recognition of his 20 years’ service at the company. The business also supports its workers’ families, as was the case with Léonce Guex, an employee who died suddenly at work in 1949. It is not only individuals who benefit; communities have also received financial support from the company, with notable examples including Lourtier during the fire of 1929 and the avalanche of 1937. When the Polish miners working at the Mont Chemin iron mine were unable to get home to their families for Christmas in 1941, Morand made sure they received gifts. In 2004 the company established work experience placements for youngsters and in 2015 began employing people with mental disabilities to package its Grand-St-Bernard herbs and spices in an on-site workshop launched with the support of the FOVAHM (Valais foundation for people with mental disabilities). Throughout its history, Morand has played an important social role.

    Locals are deeply attached to a business that has been a part of their region for over a century and that has greatly contributed to the canton’s economy. Its reputation throughout Switzerland and abroad is no doubt due to the quality of its products. Ever since the beginning, the distillery has picked up award after award. While it has optimised the work of its distillers by computerising production, some steps such as labelling are still performed manually. The recipes and family know-how have been scrupulously and secretly passed down through the generations.

     

    It is these qualities – so commonly found in Swiss family businesses – that have led to the Distillerie Louis Morand & Cie’s lengthy success.


    The Morand family

    The business has been in the hands of the Morand family for the last 130 years. Throughout this time, the company has been passed down from one generation to the next.

    It was founded by Louis Morand (1867-1921), with the support of his wife Mathilde Chappelet (1860-1918). Following the death of this radical trailblazer in 1921, the distillery was taken over by one of his sons, André Morand (1895-1984). His wife, Anne-Marie Moret (1903-1958), an extremely popular figure, was heavily involved both in running the business and in supporting disadvantaged members of society.

    The third generation is composed of two of their children: Louis Morand (1928-) as CEO, supported by his wife Mireille Meunier (1935-), and Colette Morand (1932-), married to André Vocat (1924-1991), a partner and member of the board of directors.

    The five children in the fourth generation – Olivier Vocat, Bruno Vocat, André Morand, Jean-Pierre Morand and Julien Morand – are also involved in the family business. Julien Morand and Bruno Vocat work in operations, while Olivier Vocat, Jean-Pierre Morand and André Morand sit on the board of directors as chairman, managing director and member respectively. The fourth generation looks after the company’s interests and drives innovation, having launched many of the company's newest products (most notably, Douce De®, COEUR, sWiss Cocktails, sWiss Rock®, and Mousse De).

    The Morand family prides itself on having not only the best liqueur makers, distillers, CEOs and supportive spouses, but also on counting business and legal experts among its ranks. They have been particularly involved in protecting the company’s trademarks (such as Williamine®), its know-how and its products (such as for Abricotine AOP).

    The members of the Morand family who have led the business are legendary figures. By passing on their knowledge, relatability and professionalism, they have imbued the distillery with the values that have marked and that continue to mark its culture and identity.


    Key Dates

    1889 : Louis Morand founds the Distillerie Morand with his brother
    1900 : The company moves to its current site
    1921 : Louis Morand dies and the company is taken over by his son, André
    1940s : The facilities are modernised and professionalised
    1953 : The Williamine® trademark is registered in Switzerland
    1958 : The company is taken over by Louis Morand and, together with his sister Colette Vocat, turned into a partnership
    1970s : The company develops internationally
    1980s : The company's golden age
    1990 : Fire rips through the distillery and two warehouses go up in smoke
    1992 : Louis Morand & Cie becomes a limited liability company
    2004 : Louis Morand steps down as director and passes the baton to the fourth generation. Bruno Vocat and Julien Morand play an active role in the company, while Olivier Vocat and Jean-Pierre Morand head up the board.
    2008 : A CEO is appointed from outside the family
    2015 : The company acquires Rostal Herbes Aromatiques Grand-St-Bernard SA. It ceases its distribution operations. Fabrice Haenni (second generation of Rostal) takes over as CEO. The family continues to play an active role at board and management level.


    Williamine®: a global success story

    Pear eau de vie has been distilled in the Valais region since the start of the 20th century. The Distillerie Morand is unusual in that it only uses the Williams variety and succeeds in producing the brandy on a large scale while still retaining an exceptional level of quality.

    Since the 1940s, several producers have attempted to distil the Williams pear. Valais-based winemaker and merchant Francis Germanier and the Saconnex d’Arve distillery in Geneva are just some of the names to have trodden this path. The initial tests carried out by the Distillerie Morand proved promising, which encouraged André Morand to forge ahead with production. And so the distillery purchased tonnes of Williams pears, giving Valais producers an outlet for these fragile fruits. Prior to this, the Williams pear had been used almost exclusively as a dessert fruit or for preserves. The effect on local fruit production was instantaneous: growers quickly began planting more Williams pears.

    Williamine® had found its place and would go on to account for half of the company’s turnover. With the help of his brother, the lawyer Aloys Morand, André Morand actively protected his trademark, whose name is so well known that it is often confused with the product.

     

    Three factors led to the global success of Williamine®: the quality of the product, the company’s marketing expertise, and trademark protection.

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