• The growth of the China's Momchilovtsi brand opens door to Bulgaria attracting higher numbers of Chinese tourists.
It is a mystery how the Chinese state giant Bright Dairy chose the name of a Bulgarian village of in the southern Rhodope mountains, Momchilovtsi, as the brand name for its popular yogurt drink. The company began production of its sweetened yogurt beverage in Shanghai seven years ago. It promoted the Momchilovtsi brand through advertisements and for some time the Bulgarian connection has also been featuring in Chinese commercials, even though, due to Chinese taste preferences, Bulgarian yogurt starters are not used in the drink's production. The Momchilovtsi drink has achieved annual sales of $100 million and is Chinese product with any sort of link to Bulgaria.
Bulgarian businessman Ivan Todorov, who, in addition to being a wine producer, is also a founder of the Bulgarian Center for Development, Investments and Tourism in China, speculates that awareness of Bulgaria generated by the success of the Momchilovtsi drink offers a springboard for the development of tourism products which can attract to Bulgaria large numbers of visitors drawn from China's population of more than one billion.
"The idea about Momchilovtsi yogurt drink came from the Shanghai-based state company Bright Dairy state company, which is active in food production, imports and trade," according to Todorov.
Bright Dairy, first established in 1911, now with more that 5,300 employees. It is a part of the Bright Food Group, which, as of 2014, had a turnover of $19 billion. The dairy sub-holding company reported sales of $3 billion last year.
Representatives of Bright Dairy had paid an informal visit to Bulgaria for the first time in 2008. It is unclear which of these meetings may have generated the idea about the brand but the clean natural environment of Momchilovtsi and the numbers of centenarians in the town are at the core of the company's message. Production of the drink began in 2010.
"The Momchilovtsi brand is owned by Bright Dairy and In Chinese, Momchilovtsi s pronounced "Mossulian". The drink is produced at the corporation's facilities in Shanghai. It is manufactured without a starter, without Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and without being designated as "Bulgarian," Todorov explains. "The Chinese company cooperates with Dupont in its production. The drink is offered in six varieties featuring different fruits and vegetables , incuding broccoli, and has a sweetish taste. The price is around $1 per 250 ml.
The story of the brand and the name Momchilovtsi - a village of centenarians where life is slow and calm - is printed on the drink's packaging.
"Bright Dairy develops this project alone without Bulgarian involvement. However, the brand's association with Bulgaria can help popularize the country as a tourist destination," Todorov commented.
From Shanghai to the Rhodopes
A rising number of Chinese visitors stay in guest houses in Momchilovtsi. Bright Dairy and the Bulgarian Centre for Development, Investments and Tourism in China have opened a hall in the village museum highlighting the modern history of the village and its relations with the Chinese corporation, invested in village infrastructure, and unveiled a "Longevity Path" with signs in Bulgarian, Chinese and English.
The popularity of the Chinese brand, of yogurt in general, and of Momchilovtsi itself increased even more after the Center initiated an annual Festival of Yogurt in the village in 2015. The festival includes exhibitions of dairy products, popular crafts, a folk program, a photo exhibition, a pavilion of Chinese culture and crafts, and demonstrations of Chinese martial arts. The village welcomes guests from China and from throughout Bulgaria. In the first half of 2017 15000 Chinese tourists visited Bulgaria
The news from this year's edition of the local festival,, included q groundbreaking ceremony for a new farm and a dairy that will be named Momchilovtsi-Bright. The new facility will have 40 cows and a daily capacity for processing of 500 liters of milk. The joint investment totals approximately 400,000 euro. The dairy farm is scheduled to commence operation in September, 2018 and will employ ten people. The yogurt it produces will be natural and typically Bulgarian utilizing local Lactobacillus bulgaricus starter ," Todorov explained.
The dairy farm will herald the entry of Momchilovtsi yogurt into the Bulgarian marketed and is expected to boost the development of tourism and the presence of Chinese visitor, according to Todorov. The idea is to include the Rhodope village as a main Bulgarian destination within larger tourist itineraries.
"Foods with a long shelf life are offered at Chinese exhibitions - honey, jams, lyutenitsa (pepper relish), wine, mineral water and rose water. These are also the products with the highest chances of being sold on the Chinese market. However, this is a tough process involving individual licensing requirements for each company," Todorov concluded.
Todorov has exported Bulgarian wine to China on several occasions but Bright Food representatives had explained that while French wine sells without advertisement, Bulgarian wines need intensive advertising and promotion.