From Powdered Milk to World Domination: the Nestlé Story Told in NEST

NEST, Vevey, Switzerland

The beautiful city of Vevey sits on a pretty patch of Lake Geneva as it curls around toward Montreux and the mountains. It’s quite remarkable that the story of one of the world’s biggest brands and multinational companies was born here – and still is headquartered in town: Nestlé.

From the outside the museum building looks impressive. At a short walk from the train station, it’s also in a great location. Unfortunately, however, the modern, interactive experience which the curators were going for falls a tad flat. This perhaps explains why the museum is getting closed down in September 2019.  I’m here to reassure you that you didn’t miss out on much.

And I’m not the only one with this view.  The museum has only been open since 2016,  inaugurated to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary, but come September, it will be closed, the building being refurbished and used as offices for Nespresso.

Fear not, the company’s official press release promised that they will continue to offer a unique experience in digital form.

A-ha.

For Sister-Chickpea, the problems started immediately.  She doesn’t like being told what to do, and the first ‘experience’ of the museum involved being ushered into a series of rooms where the exits were closed, and you were forced to endure the spectacle until the doors freed you into the next room.  As soon as she realised the set up, she wished she hadn’t entered.  I was willing to go along with it at first, but honestly my patience was already stretched because we were told that we needed the audio guides to know what was going on.  I hate audio guides.  I hate them, hate them, hate them. They take three minutes to tell you something you would read in ten seconds.

Anyway, these prison-like rooms told us a sort of story of Nestlé in evocatively created little rooms.  These rooms would have been fine, had we been allowed through them at our own pace.  We were then trapped in a round room which projected images that had been taken of us poor saps in the first room we’d entered, and superimposed them on a ‘fun’ – read terrifying – animated backdrop.  It was horrible.  At this point, my sister and I were jostling to force the fire door open.

Once we’d endured this, we figured things would get better.  It did, and it didn’t.  We made our way up to the museum section, where a surprisingly narrow and generally small amount of space displayed various artefacts, much of which was in drawers.

There was a darkened room which very dramatically displayed some of the more interesting objects – but it all seemed very shallow.

Again, the rest of the gallery was strange because it did tell the Nestlé story, and the story of the various companies that come under their wing – like Maggi, Kohler and Cailler – but it wasn’t… well, frankly, it wasn’t engaging and it wasn’t interesting.  And this really doesn’t seem like the most difficult of subjects to sell to the already-buying visiting public.  From condensed milk to stock cubes, the much-criticised big companies have developed nutritious, time-saving and economical products for home cooks around the world for over a century.  This is a great achievement and deserves to be highlighted.

To finish off the lacklustre visit, you got to walk around an area filled with multimedia stations.  Not sure what the point was.  When I went, a few of the screens weren’t working, and I gave up on trying anything else.

So In Summary

It’s a shame the museum didn’t quite click because it could have been amazing – after all, Nestlé himself was a formidable figure and the associated stories of the companies since they were taken over or developed by the group should have been interesting. I wasn’t sure why they didn’t have more artefacts on display – more posters, more packaging, more machines, more moulds, more of the history of industrial food production… basically more of everything.  It was too empty, and too reliant on technology to supply ‘an experience’ – which is never a good idea in a world where technology is constantly improving and when, frankly, the thing breaks down constantly.

NEST wasn’t really a museum, it wasn’t really an experience.  It felt a bit like it was flip-flopping between the two – probably because they were frightened of creating an old-fashioned museum, but didn’t have the imagination to do anything else.  Perhaps they were afraid it would come across as self-promotion.  But why shouldn’t they celebrate their achievements, letting the visitor wallow a little in the nostalgia of much-loved foods and drinks at the same time as addressing the modern interest in global sustainability and responsibility?  Oh, and I didn’t add that the entrance fee was – even for Switzerland – exorbitant at 18 CHF.

Further Information

If you want to get a Nestlé fix, you can pop along to the NEST until some time in September 2019 – their website is in utter denial about the closure so there is no specific date – I’d check that out before planning a trip: www.le-nest.ch

With NEST gone, The much plugged Alimentarium by the lake is Nestlé’s sole form of company celebration, but they focus on foodstuffs rather than their own company.  It will be interesting to see if they add a section which does the job that NEST should have done. Hopefully it will, because the brand is too historical, too important and too interesting to not have a presence in town.

I just want to add that I was really looking forward to visiting their shop – but actually, it wasn’t as fun as it looked.  The same few names – Nesquick, Nescafé, Cailler – kept being used on the quite unimaginative merchandising.  Ready – even eager – to spend my money, I walked away with one tin – a reproduction of the original milk tin of Mr Nestlé.

The museum shop full of branded goodies, Nest, Vevey, Switzerland

How To Get There

Well, unless you work for Nestlé, you probably can’t go there now.  Sorry.

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