General business overview

Continuous innovation, even during challenging times, is a key pillar of our success. On this foundation, we took important steps in 2021 in implementing our commitment to reduce climate change and generate solutions that unlock sustainable businesses. And we brought our innovation to a next level by reinforcing our position as a solution partner to our customers. While the pandemic continued to present challenges, we successfully secured operations, supply chains, deliveries, and services to our customers. With a positive turnaround of orders, stable turnover, and profitability, our financial position in 2021 was improved and we are very satisfied with the outcomes of the year. Despite an ongoing challenging economic environment and strained supply chains, we remain optimistic and expect a continuation of our profitable growth. 


The business environment for Bühler in 2021 was characterized by three key topics: the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; strained supply chains with shortages of parts and components, soaring raw material prices and logistic costs; as well as the recovery and accelerated transition of major markets especially in the northern hemisphere driven by changing consumer behavior, digitalization, and the demand for sustainable value streams.  

Our top priority continued to be the health and safety of people, not only of Bühler but also of our customers and partners. In close alignment with the safety requirements and regulations of the different global locations, we worked to bring our employees safely back to our sites wherever possible. During 2020, whenever possible, we switched to digital solutions to ensure continuation of the business and to communicate, and we discovered the benefits of this in many areas. From online commissioning of plants and production lines to product development with our customers in our Application & Training Centers and virtual communication with webinars or the Bühler Virtual World. In 2021, as more and more of our workforce became vaccinated, we resumed in-person meetings and events, internally but also with our customers – with all safety precautions. In our experience, more face-to-face communication with some virtual and hybrid events helped keep the energy level of our organization high after months of lockdowns and isolation.  

To ensure the safety of in-person interactions, in addition to our ongoing safety measures, we rolled out vaccination campaigns at the earliest possible point in time at all our global sites. In the majority of our locations, our vaccination drives were open to both employees and their families, for example in Switzerland, India, China, Vietnam, Austria, South Africa, and others. Uptake of the Covid-19 vaccines overall was high, so that we can report an 83% vaccination rate of Bühler’s workforce worldwide as of December 2021.  

In retrospect, managing the pandemic from the beginning of 2020 could be seen as an opportunity to test and increase the agility of our company. In 2021, our regional set-up and 103 service stations across the globe again proved to be very robust, and we were able to honor all our contracts. As supply chain and logistics issues became more challenging, including dealing with energy shortages in Asia, we managed the situations with the high engagement and flexibility of our colleagues across our organization, including procurement, commissioning, logistics, services, and human resources. Our employees globally ensured that we could always keep our promises to our customers. Even the largest plants, such as green-field complexes in various countries, were completed and started operations within this tense period. 


Keeping innovation pace high

Because of our reliability and ability to deliver, we were able to benefit from market recoveries and the growing demand for new solutions in several segments. This demand was driven – among others – by the accelerated transformation of the food, feed, and mobility industries with a view toward decarbonization and new consumer trends. We could meet these market needs with innovative, new solutions which were launched in the markets. These include our extrusion technology for batteries, the launch of large-scale die-casting machines for large body in white parts, systems for plant-based meat alternatives, insect processing, the Mill E3 and SmartMill – our new generation of fully digital mills – along with many digital services and an expanded CO₂ equivalent quantification program. 

In addition, we expanded our innovation ecosystem with strong partnerships to complete our offerings along integrated value chains. For example, with Balaguer on roll services, Vyncke on energy recovery solutions, Givaudan and Migros on cultured meat, DIL on plant-based proteins; and the existing joint-venture with Premier Tech on packaging went operational and have proven to be a success.  


Back to growth

Based on our position as a technology leader and solution partner, we have been able to turn order intake around after the severe decrease in 2020 caused by the pandemic. On Group level, order intake went up 15.6% to CHF 3.0 billion. Because of the time shift in the investment goods industry from orders to sales, but it improved our orders on hand by 27.2%. This upward trend is not yet fully visible in turnover, which remained stable at CHF 2.7 billion. Due to continued strict cost management and margin protection, EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) stood at CHF 146 million (prior year: CHF 146 million), reflecting an EBIT margin of 5.4% (prior year: 5.4%).  

Following the vast variety of impacts caused by the pandemic and market recovery patterns, the businesses and regions showed strong variance in performance. Advanced Materials performed at an outstanding level with an order increase of 36.8% to CHF 620 million, and a turnover growth of 14.9% to CHF 509 million. Our Grains & Food business achieved a strong upturn with an order intake growth of 12.2% to CHF 1.8 billion and stable turnover of CHF 1.7 billion. For the Consumer Foods segment including the Chocolate, Wafer, and Biscuit business units, the market recovery started with a time lag, so that the business grew orders by 6.5% to CHF 584 million at a decreased turnover of CHF 509 million (-11.3%) related to the low order intake in 2020.  

Net profit increased slightly to CHF 113 million (prior year: CHF 110 million). The expenses for research and development (R&D) increased to CHF 141 million (5.2% of Group turnover) in line with our strategy to be the innovation leader of our industry. 


Services as a game changer

Our fast-growing Customer Service business with a 15.1% growth rate in order intake to CHF 746 million and 8.6% in turnover to CHF 693 million, contributed to this outcome. The continuation of new digital methods, for example to commission equipment, lines, and plants remotely, was an essential element in supporting our customers during difficult traveling circumstances resulting from the pandemic. As a side effect, we increased the efficiency and reach of our services for customers. 

With this, the share of Customer Service on turnover increased from 24% to 26%, combined with the short cycle Single Machine business that increased to 34% of the total turnover. This growth was driven not least because of three factors: the expansion of our services portfolio, for example comprehensive service contracts (TotalCare) which include the presence of Bühler technicians at customer sites, and remote maintenance service offerings using our digital platform Bühler Insights.  

The expansion of our e-commerce service myBühler, bringing more customers and regions onto our platform; and the utilization of our service offerings to improve the performance of the installed base of our customers – not only in terms of efficiency and productivity, but also in terms of sustainability. Increasingly it is realized that the strongest lever to reduce energy, waste, and water lays within the vast number of existing plants and services to enhance their ecological footprint.   


Strong global network

2021 again proved Bühler’s global network of production sites, Application & Training Centers, and service stations to be a key strength of the company. Locally, even in regions with ongoing travel restrictions we were able to serve customers. It allows our factories and supply chains to breathe and to mitigate risks by a flexible activation of our assets. The background for the robustness of our supply chain and next level agility lays with the real-time management of this network.  

Along with the divergent course of our businesses, there was also a shift in regional developments. Regarding orders released, our South Asia region experienced strong growth at 52%, followed by Middle East & Africa at 31%. Share of turnover in the regions was: Asia 33%, Europe 32%, North America 17%, Middle East & Africa 10%, South America 5%, and South Asia 3%. 

Financial stability improved

From a financial perspective, protecting and improving liquidity continued to have the highest priority over the course of the year. The goal was to remain independent and strong, while ensuring sufficient cash to repay the first tranche of the bond in 2022. By consistently managing cash flow, net working capital and costs, Bühler succeeded in increasing net liquidity.  

Driven by diligent finance management, operating cash flow was CHF 256 million, and net liquidity went up from CHF 159 million to CHF 329 million (+107.1%). Equity increased with a ratio of 47.2% (reported prior year¹: 44.2%).  

This financial strength enables us to continue executing our strategy including strategic investments into assets and innovation, and provides our customers, suppliers, and partners security in a volatile economic environment. 

¹2021 restated, prior year unchanged 


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