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British Bangers storm Bulgaria!

Bill Watson, a chef by trade, moved to Bulgaria in 2006 with the intention of 'semi-retiring', along with his wife Jane. They bought a property in a village close to Veliko Turnovo and set up a small guest house. Bill's links (excuse the pun!) with the sausage industry stemmed from a butchery course he took whilst serving in the Navy. His interest developed into making sausages for friends and family as a hobby, but such was the success of his bangers that he ended up with regular oders of up to 100 kg a month!

When Bill and Jane moved to Bulgaria, Bill continued to make sausages from a specially built room in his home. Realising there was a gap in the market, he decided to research sausage making as a full time business.After months of research, negotiations and trials, Bill and Jane finally started to produce sausages in May of 2007, using a small, famiily-run factory called Valmes, just outside Lesicheri.

The factory route proved to be the best option as it came with complete with hygiene certificates from the Bulgarian Department of Health, full staff training records and a complete HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) system in place. Bill was impressed with the systems and controls he found in place, "They had everything I expect to find in any UK food processing environment".

Valia the manger and owner (right) was looking forward to making new products. She had a great team of people, her own organically produced pork and a willingness to help Bill in his enterprise as well as improve their own business. Bill envisaged that his primary target audience would be expats living in and around the Veliko Tarnovo area with a secondary audience spreading out across Bulgaria.

He marketed his business through word of mouth. A tasting session was held in the Veliko Tarnovo club where local expats could try the sausages and place the first orders ready for the May deadline. Initial distribution was from the car park at Praktiker and the sausages were kept fresh in cool boxes using blocks of ice. Collection was limited to 30 minutes to maintain the temperature and stay within the regulations for the transportation of goods in an unrefridgerated environment.

Initial interest was good, with the first order amounting to 20 kg. Bill kept a record of the feedback he received so that he could improve the quality of his product. Some buyers commented, “These don’t taste like the ones you buy in supermarkets” or “There is hardly any fat in these.” Bill’s explanation for the differing tastes is down to the fact that UK supermarkets state that their sausages contain 60% pork meat, however, they don’t actually mean “meat” because it is predominantly mechanically reclaimed meat processed to such a high degree that it doesn’t resemble meat. Bill’s breakfast and Cumberland style sausages are produced with 80% pork shoulder and leg with 20% pork fat added. No breadcrumbs or fillers are used to bulk out the sausage, and there are no dreaded additives. Herbs used in the sausage recipes are supplied by Mercury Foods.

Setting up the chain of supply was a long drawn out process with endless meetings to impress Bill’s requirements onto the supplier. Mercury were so enthusiastic about the project that they ordered Mace and Sage especially for the sausage recipes.

After two months in business, demand was higher than expected and with the start of the summer BBQ season, Bill extended his range to include Italian style sausage and honey and mustard sausages, the Italian proving to be the favoured of the two. By the end of September the company were producing 50 kg per month. The factory was following the recipes to the letter so that the product was exactly what it said on the label.

A restaurant owner in Veliko Tarnovo wanted to include Bill’s sausages on the menu at two of his restaurants and after a meeting decided that the traditional “Bangers & Mash”option with a rich onion gravy would sell well. The restauarant owner started with a modest order of 10 kg. Bill spent some time at the restaurant showing him how to cook and serve the dish. His order increased steadily to 30 kg, and it’s not just the Brits who are buying them, many Bulgarians also enjoy the flavour.

For Christmas Bill added chipolatas and sausagemeat to his sausage roster knowing that they would be the perfect accompaniment for turkey and sausage rolls. This proved to be a great success with orders in excess of 200 kg and sales of these items have continued to soar.

Bill and Jane received further publicity by appearing on the BTV programme called The New Bulgarians, which depicted how foreigners were making a new life in Bulgaria. They received a call from another restaurateur in the city, who also wanted to meet and discuss adding English sausage dishes to menus in three of his restaurants.

Armed with samples of the English breakfast and chipolata sausages Bill cooked the sausages and conducted a tasting session. They were most impressed and wanted to add four dishes to their menu: Bangers and Mash; full English breakfast; sausage, egg, chips & beans; and Toad in the Hole. As Bill explains, “Demonstrating all of this was quite a task, which brought about lots of “ohs” and “ahs” and “dobre’s”. Initially, the restaurant ordered 42 kg and this figure is set to double as the dishes prove to be extremely popular.

Originally, Bill and Jane started their venture with the view to producing the sausages from home however, after long arduous talks with local Environmental Health Officers, they realised that there was no way of obtaining permission to manufacture from home. Choosing the factory option instead of production from home, turned out to be a real bonus for Bill, “There is no way I could keep up with demand. Choosing to put all of our production through Valmes has meant that we have been able to grow and reach a wider marketplace very quickly.” Bills’ future plans are to expand distribution and to produce English bacon.

He charges 12 leva per kilo for his sausages and is reaping the rewards of his hard work and foresightedness.

If you are thinking of setting up a business in Bulgaria, then take a leaf out of Bill and Jane’s book and research all of your options through the proper legal channels. Bulgarian laws on food hygiene are extremely strict and you must operate within this rigid framework to avoid high fines and closure. Businesses in Bulgaria are strictly regulated and monitored; don’t fall into the trap of thinking you will be able to get away with more than you can in the Uk - often it is the other way around.

If you would like to taste Bill's sausage dishes then visit either of the Shastlivitsa’s restauarants opposite Pepes bar and under the Concorde Hotel in Veliko Tarnovo or one of the Ego restaurants on the main Hristo Botev street or the City Pub.
You can contact Bill at:
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