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Chocolate heaven in Bulgaria

Traditionally expat communities are largely made up of retired couples looking to escape the UK for a more sedate lifestyle whilst living off their hard earned pensions.

However research indicates that whilst to a certain extent this is still true, there is also an ever increasing population of younger people choosing to leave the rat race behind and take their chances abroad.

For Ian and Michaela, having decided that the latter would be their chosen path, Bulgaria then seemed the logical choice for relocation as they had already bought and renovated a villa in Balchik on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast in 2003. In the intervening years between 2003 and 2009 they had visited Bulgaria on a regular basis and had come to love the people, lifestyle and culture not to mention their sea view and glorious sun in the extended summer months. Having made the move and also having had a period of time to recharge their batteries, they started to think about various different ways to make a living in their new country.

In order to appeal to the largest possible consumer market, they tried to focus on something that would appeal to both the Bulgarian and English communities, something that would appeal to all ages and gender and mindful of the current economic climate, a product that was relatively low cost.   Using this criterion they then decided to look at the feasibility of setting up a shop selling English chocolate and sweets.  This seemed to fit the bill but they also wanted to bring some new western concepts to the Bulgarian market and so they decided to introduce Pick n Mix sweets and Pick n Mix chocolates to the local Bulgarians. Aided by the fact that they had family members in the confectionary business that were able to organise operations in England, they went full steam ahead with their new venture and The Chocolate Box was born.

Turning concept into reality proved a challenge not quite of biblical proportions, but as anyone who knows how the wheels of Bulgarian bureaucracy turn, not far off it!! The advent of EU accession has also brought with it increased overheads and new Health and Safety policies in relation to opening a shop. Nonetheless after much problem solving and hard work, they finally opened The Chocolate Box in Balchik three days before Christmas 2009. As part of their intention to appeal to the Bulgarian market as well as the English, they had all their signs made up in Bulgarian and also made up a Bulgarian description of each product. They sourced out some decorative bows and boxes and organza bags to place the chocolates in but also decided to try to appeal to the side of the Bulgarians that like to give gifts. With this in mind they found a supplier for gifts such as soft toys, decorative mugs etc and then wrapped these with decorative ribbons and cellophane wrap and also included chocolates and sweets. This had the double appeal of providing a nice gift but also introducing English chocolate and sweets to the locals.

To date the shop has proved a hit with the Bulgarian and the English market alike. A dedicated chocolate and sweet shop and also one that does Pick ‘n’ Mix is something that presently exists only in the upmarket malls in Sofia and Varna but something that is totally new and innovative in the provinces such as Balchik. For this reason the locals have embraced the Pick ‘n’ Mix and gift side of the business and are slowly getting used to the English produce. There has also been a good response from the local expat community and also the expat community across Bulgaria in general.  Particular favourites have been the Fruit Pastilles, Jelly Babies, Rolos, Curly Wurlys and Chocolate Liquors. New lines of stock such as Crunchies, Galaxy, Flakes and  Cadburys  Creme Eggs are also being added.

In terms of the development of the shop and how they envisage the business evolving from here, Ian and Michaela have had a lot of enquiries about online ordering and delivery throughout Bulgaria and this is something they are looking at. They are also developing the gift side of the business and looking at special gift sections for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Birthdays and of course Christmas.  In these embryonic stages they say they are happy to cover their costs, expand lines of stock and slowly increase turnover but eventually would like to create a known brand name that could lend itself to opening more shops in other areas.

So has it been worth it and would they go back to the UK?, the answer was an emphatic Yes, followed by an equally emphatic No!!