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Welcome to Bulgaria’s Chocolate Heaven

If you are down in the dumps because of all the hype about the poor state of the global economy, then chomp on a bar of chocolate to bring back the feel-good factor.  Eating chocolate has a wealth of proven health benefits; it acts as a brain stimulator, wards off cancer, prevents coughs and benefits the circulation system. Many people say that it is an aphrodisiac, but this is as yet unproven, what is true is that it chocolate increases the brains levels of serotonin and makes you feel better. Bulgarians are great lovers of chocolate; when the Iron Curtain fell across Eastern Europe many entrepreneurs rushed to set up chocolate companies, many of which are still going strong today.

Enter the Giants

As soon as the Iron Curtain fell, the multinational food giants descended on Bulgaria and the rest of the Eastern bloc to fight for their stake of the chocolate industry.
Nestle grabbed its stake of the Bulgarian chocolate market in 1994 when it bought the country’s largest chocolate manufacturer, SZI Sofia. Yet the history of the company they bought dates back to 1939 when Stephan Todorov built a factory to make chocolate and called it Shtastie. Not only did he make good chocolate, but he also cared about his employees’ welfare, building houses for them and ensuring that they received a hot meal twice a day. By 1947 Shtastie was the clear market leader in the chocolate race producing not only chocolate bars but, pralines, Turkish delight, jelly sweets, cocoa and a number of other non-chocolate products. By the time the company was nationalized under the Communists (in 1947), it employed 2,000 people and produced 150,000 tons. Yet its luxury range of chocolate sold under the brand names Piani Vishni, Troen Lewshnik, Kapriz and Sofia Vecher were all made by hand. The state changed the company name to DIP “Malchika”. Under the watchful eye of the state the company continued to grow and increase its product range to include biscuits. In 1991 when assets were handed back to the original owners the company name reverted back to SZI Sofia. Three years later it was sold to Nestle Switzerland, who injected much needed cash to enable the company to produce some of Nestle’s established global brands like Kit-Kat as well as continuing with local favourites like Mura, Jiten Dar and Taralejki and expanding into other areas so that the portfolio toady centres around baby food, culinary products, chocolates, pralines, deserts, chocolate and plain biscuits, milk products, breakfast cereals and pet foods. Nestle Bulgaria employs more than 1,100 in Sofia and prides itself in following Stephan Todorov’s policies of looking after its employees welfare. Success has been abundant for Nestle; they have doubled their market share and won several awards at the annual Plovdiv Fair for high quality and excellent taste.

Kraft Foods, Inc is the third largest food and beverage manufacturer in the world and owner of Bulgaria’s most popular chocolate brand Svoge formerly produced by the Republika Confectionery Company in the town of Svoge. Kraft’s motivation for buying the Svoge plant was the same as Nestle’s ; it provided them with an inroad into the Bulgarian market and an opportunity to introduce their international brands. In addition to the Bulgarian Svoge brand, Kraft also produces their Milka and Suchard chocolate brands here as well as other lines like Jacobs coffee. You'll find Svoge chocolate a favorite all over Bulgaria.

Room for the Little Guys

Despite Nestle and Kraft’s control of the chocolate market there are still many independent chocolate manufacturers producing a vast range of milk and dark Bulgarian chocolate, which competes with the international brands on the domestic stage.

Sof - C a o was established in 1996 in Sofia to manufacture chocolate and sugar products at its plant in Ihtiman. It purchased a lot of quality equipment from a Franco-Belgian company and this investment has paid off with the company winning many awards for chocolate production not just in Bulgaria but in the Balkans too. Company brands include Kembel, Liuliak and Verona chocolate bars, a large proportion of which are exported to Armenia, Georgia, Macedonia and Vietnam.

Sigma Bio was founded in 1993 and produces sugar and chocolate products. It employs over 100 people at its factory in Sofia. Its chocolate range is branded under the names Am-Am, which is aimed at the children’s market and Respect, which is the company’s luxury brand.  In addition to chocolate the company also produces sweets and biscuits. All of the company’s products are made without using any artificial substitutes and flavors. The company aim to expand their range over the next few years as well as strengthening their share of the Bulgarian market and expanding outside of this.

Foodsfuff Factory – Yambol is a highly localised producer of sugar and confectionery products. It was founded in 1982 and produces and exports brands like Passo Doble, Bijoux, Remi and Pamporovo, which are all boxed chocolates popular in Bulgaria for every possible occasion from a birthday or name day celebration to a distant friend’s engagement.

Koleff was founded in 1991 by a graduate from the University of Food Technologies in Plovdiv called Stancho Kolev. He felt that there was a high demand but low supply of good quality chocolate and eventually he came up with one of the country’s most popular boxed chocolates today, the “Pearl" made of white chocolate with coconut filling. In 1995 a chance meeting with a Russian involved in chocolate production lead to the company’s products being shipped there and new products being developed to expand the existing range and to cater for the different tastes of the new Russian market. Ultimately this lead to the Russians investing in the company and funding a new plant on the outskirts of Gabrovo. Amongst the company’s most popular brands are a popular series of fine dark chocolate bars known as Koleff XXI. Stancho Kolev was given the Zlatna Marteniza business award by the Ministry of Economy for the best Bulgarian producer in 2000. Koleff’s strength lies in its mastery of dark chocolate production and the fact that it sells to markets as far away as the USA, Asia and Africa are testimony to this. To mark the company’s 10 year anniversary it introduced sugar free range of chocolate called Elegant.

Bulgaria’s Chocolate Creations

Such is the love of chocolate and indeed all things sweet in Bulgaria that the capital has a museum solely dedicated to this addictive taste of paradise and is the only country in the Balkans to have one. The museum has much to do with Nestle who purchased the country’s oldest chocolate manufacturer and the history focuses very much around the former chocolate manufacturer, SZI Sofia.  
More testimony to the adoration of this dark substance was shown with the 2006 exhibition of the heads of 10 of Bulgaria's most popular personalities created out of Svoge chocolate. The busts included the President Georgi Parvanov, the Mayor of Sofia Boyko Borissov and other personalities from the world of sport and entertainment. The busts were auctioned after the exhibition to raise money for scholarships for young authors abroad.

Pictures courtesy of the brans owners.