If you live in Switzerland, you have come across the name Betty Bossi. At some point a Swiss friend has most certainly handed you a Betty Bossi recipe, declaring it “inratable” (impossible to mess up). Many of the recipes from her 120 cookbooks have become staples in Swiss kitchens. She has a popular culinary subscription magazine, and a well-frequented website. Who is Betty Bossi, and why does she have Switzerland wrapped around her little culinary finger?
The short answer is that she is a fictional character (gasp!) invented by a marketing agency working for a margarine and cooking oil company to… well…sell more margarine and cooking oil in a country that swears by butter.
In reality, however, Betty Bossi is much more than that. Alongside the infamous Helvetia, the feminine personification of Switzerland, Betty Bossi is probably the most well-known and well-loved feminine figure in the Swiss collective consciousness.
Betty Bossi has been around for the past 65 years and has comfortably established herself as Switzerland’s first and foremost food influencer, and steadfast friend. The Swiss turn to her tried-and-tested recipes for any and all occasions.
Betty Bossi first made an appearance in 1956 in the form a two-sided leaflet in French and German called the Betty Bossi Post that was distributed for free in stores and marketplaces every six weeks. It bore the title, “What should I cook today?” and gave a week-long meal-plan with recipes. It also contained other useful information for a housewife in the 50s: questions and answers about housework, needlework, tips on weekly budgets, what to do if your husband cheats (!), crossword puzzles, and articles on parenting and schools.
On the leaflet was a picture of a nice-looking smiling woman of an undefined age, and at the end of the leaflet was her signature. Betty was a friend. Someone the Swiss housewife could turn to for advice.
The American Connection
Does any of this sound familiar? Do any other Bettys come to mind? If you thought of Betty Crocker, you thought right. And it’s no coincidence. The fictional Betty Bossi was modelled after the just-as-fictional Betty Crocker. Developed in 1921 by a flour company, Betty Crocker answered questions on cooking and baking, and by the 1950s Betty Crocker was already a household name in the States. She had radio programs, and cookbooks. Betty Crocker was the second most well-known woman in the United States (the first being Eleanor Roosevelt).
An employee of the Swiss food company Astra/Sais (a division of Unilever Switzerland) named Emmi Creola-Maag noticed the success of Betty Crocker in the States and imported the concept. Betty was a popular name at the time in all three of Switzerland’s linguistic regions, so they kept it. For the last name, they wanted something that didn’t have a regional connotation and that could be easily pronounced all over the country. Betty Bossi was suggested, had a nice ring to it, and it stuck. The Betty Bossi signature is the handwriting of the young Ms. Creola-Maag, who also initially wrote all the articles before getting help from a home-maker and cook.
From leaflet to empire
Betty Bossi was immediately successful. In 1966, the leaflet was transformed into a paying magazine (2 francs a year for 8 issues) that you received in your mailbox. In 1973, the first cookbook was published, “Les Patisseries de Betty Bossi”, and many more were published thereafter. “Cakes and Pies”, also published in 1973, is the bestseller with 1.35 million copies sold. As of today, Betty Bossi has sold 35 million cookbooks and pastry books (if you placed all the sold cookbooks next to each other, it is said that they would go from Switzerland to the United States…Betty to Betty). When the recipe for Tiramisu was published in 1984, mascarpone was sold out throughout Switzerland in record time.
In the first month of Covid lockdown, the Betty Bossi website had more than 10 million hits. When people were confined to their homes and restaurants were closed, Betty Bossi made available, and free of charge, hundreds of recipes (that are usually a paid service). She saw a need and filled it. In a time of hardship, Betty Bossi was there…helping the people cook their way through their troubles.
The Betty Bossi franchise has grown and changed. It has been bought and sold multiple times. The brand now belongs to the supermarket chain Coop, where the brand is omnipresent with over 600 products. Over the years, Betty has had a TV show (called al dente Betty Bossi), a culinary emergency hotline (a real marketing coup…through the hotline, the company could also gather information on what people were missing and then propose new products to fill the void), manufactured a tremendous amount of kitchen appliances, established cooking classes, magazines, pre-prepared meals, a website and newsletter, home delivery meal services, vegan and gluten-free cookbooks to keep up with the times. She has always managed to stay relevant, and always been there for the people of Switzerland as a food influencer, cooking guru and friend.