Jaroslav Burkart: Metelka’s products hit the spot of the Bulgarian taste preferences

Jaroslav Burkart

What do you think when it comes to Bulgaria? Maybe you recall the most famous beach resorts, where people travelled during the Communist era because it was one of the few possible places to go. Sunny Beach, Burgas, Golden Sands, or Varna can’t be forgotten. But what else we know about this Balkan country? Almost nothing, right? But there is one thing, one product which we all connect Bulgaria with – rakija. It’s a fruit brandy very similar to our slivovice. The production of this national Bulgarian spirit is the reason why Jaroslav Burkart has been travelling to Southern Europe for four years. He’s the CEO of VINPROM-TROYAN AD company which is an unmatched leader in the production of plum rakija. VINPROM-TROYAN AD is a part of R. JELINEK GROUP SE as well as the Metelka Company, and Jaroslav Burkart makes sure that the Bulgarians know about the beverages from Vizovice. And he does that very well. For example, nearly 120,000 bottles of Metelka’s Milky beverages are sold every year in Bulgaria!

Since we have mentioned rakija, we have to ask: What is the difference between rakija and the Czech plum brandy called slivovice?
Rakija is almost the same as our slivovice but there are two main differences between them. In Bulgaria, they leave plums to ferment without hard seeds. And secondly, Bulgarians don’t drink a clear so-called white rakija because they consider it unfinished. When rakija is distilled, it must be put into oak barrels. After the liquid turns golden and has the woody flavour, then it’s ready to drink and it’s very similar to our golden plum brandy. But there is one major difference in the large-scale production. Fruit is fermented in open-air process but we use slow fermentation without the access of air.

The company VINPROM-TROYAN AD is the Bulgarian leader in rakija production. Which product is its flagship?
It’s definitely three-year-old Otležala rakija that sells the most. People also widely buy common one-year-old or even seven-year-old rakija. We also have specialities – Specialna Reserva 25 year or Familia Resereva. These two products are very successful and win gold medals at the biggest Bulgaria exhibition VINARIA every year. And that’s because we maintain the highest quality in Bulgaria and we have long tradition as well. We celebrate the 70th anniversary this year and we are the leader in the production of fruit spirits all the time.

Why was R. JELINEK GROUP SE interested in Bulgaria in the first place?
We have always followed customers’ demands. We are keen to work only with premium ingredients and we want to know where they grow. Bulgaria is one of the major producers of plums and therefore our headquarters is based in Troyan, in a town which is about 160 km northeast of Sofia. It’s located near the Balkan Mountains and there are very good conditions for growing plums. Rakija has been widely produced here since the half of the 19th century. Bulgaria is also a natural centre of the Balkan region from which is close to Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, or Greece.

VINPROM-TROYAN AD also distributes Metelka’s products. Do Bulgarians have different preferences than we do?
Not much. Their tastes are almost the same but Bulgarians like sweet products more. Otherwise, sales are nearly similar to the rest of Europe and they’re just as sensitive to advertising as anywhere else. Anyway, Metelka’s products satisfy the Bulgarians’ taste very well.

Which are the most popular ones?
Clearly, the Milky products are the most popular. We sell almost 120,000 bottles a year. Milky just filled a gap in the market because nothing like that was available on the market at the time, when we started to offer Milky products in Bulgaria. Just whisky creams or some private brands with eggnog-like liqueurs were available. But an emulsion liqueur was not present. The Milky products have immediately gained popularity and their sales have skyrocketed quickly. Sales don’t grow that rapidly anymore but it’s still in tens of percent. However, other products aren’t left behind. The Bombardino is popular too, mainly because Bulgarians go skiing in the Alps more often. Moreover, the Metelka’s Bombardino has managed to be excellent in flavour and even in its label design.

How long have you been working in Bulgaria?
It’s been four years since I’ve started my ‘mission’ here.

And how often do you go to Troyan?
I go there at least once a month for twelve days, but when fruit ripe and there’s a big fruit purchase I usually stay there for a month.

So you’ve had an opportunity to experience Bulgaria well. To see monuments, nature, culture…
Exactly, it’s a beautiful country. Czechs usually think there’s just hot summer weather and beaches. But that’s a mistake. Bulgarians are friendly and big-hearted and it’s a cheap destination, in general. Even my family regularly visit me during summertime. The Black Sea is truly beautiful as well as the Balkan Mountains with more than twenty-two peaks higher than 2,000 metres. Near the Troyan city, there’s a pass which is closed during the winter due to snow conditions. Ski resorts such as Bansko, Paporovo, or Borovets are very close to the Alps with their quality. But the most intense experience for me was a cave Prochodna also called ‘God’s eyes’. I frequently go back and just relax there. You can find many places like this one in Bulgaria. I tell all my friends they have to come and see for themselves.