Why Italy’s F&B Companies Should Bet on Bulgaria

In 2018 Italy’s exports to Bulgaria reached 2.3 billion euros, up 6.6% on the previous year. There are many yet untapped opportunities for the Italian food industry in the South-Eastern European country

The numbers show that Bulgaria is an increasingly attractive country for Italian companies. According to ICE – Italian Trade Agency data, in 2018 Italian investments reached 2.53 billion euros allowing Italy to reach the fourth place in the ranking of the most important countries for Bulgarian imports after the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany. “More than 6,000 companies with Italian participation operate and invest in the country, with a total turnover of over 5 billion euros for over 70,000 jobs created in the area,” Alessandra Capobianco, head of ICE Sofia, points out.


Most Italian companies are concentrated in the cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Ruse, Varna and Kyustendil. The imports/exports trend is good: in 2018 Italian exports to Bulgaria, according to ISTAT data, reached 2.3 billion euros, up 6.6%, and imports from Bulgaria (equal to 2.4 billion euros) grew by 7.6 percent. Among the most significant sectors involved we can find food products (127 million, +8.4%) and beverages. Exports of Italian beverages totaled 42.1 million euros (+97% compared to the previous year).


In 2018 sales of coffee, which is the main item when it comes to Italy’s F&B exports, stood out exceeding 31 million euros, with a growth of 20.5% compared to 2017. Italian espresso is now available almost everywhere and in a considerable variety of brands. Among purchases made by the Bulgarians there are also processed and preserved meats, for a value of 24.5 million (+2.5%), olive oils for almost 5 million (+40.4%), dairy products for 9.9 million (+9.5%), and bakery products for 8.2 million (+1.4%).

In the beverage sector, the growth in Italian exports is largely due to the success of beer, which reached 16.2 million euros (a more than 1000% increase compared to 2017). Sales of mineral water-based beverages also rose sharply, up to 10.7 million (+281%), while sales of table-wines and high-quality wines reached a value of 4 million (+3.4%). In 2018, Italy came in second place – after France – in the ranking of wine top exporter countries to Bulgaria with a market share of 20.8 per cent.


Opportunities for development are mainly related to categories such as pasta, rice, sauces and condiments for pasta, authentic Italian cheeses, preserves (such as dried tomatoes), olive oil, cold cuts, meat, chocolate, biscuits and sweets. As for beverage, Bulgarians greatly appreciate Prosecco, sparkling wine, and white wine, while it is more difficult to introduce red wine of which Bulgaria is already a good producer.


The first important channel is large-scale distribution, controlled by giants who, in order of turnover, are Kaufland and Lidl, Metro, Billa, Fantastico (a Bulgarian chain), and T-Market. To date, the chains that have proved most open to the introduction of new Italian products are Metro, Fantastico, and T-Market. Important opportunities are also beginning to open up for gourmet shops, especially in Sofia, which sell high quality products even from small producers.


Next October 1st the ICE – Italian Trade Agency Office in Sofia will organize the eleventh edition of “La Dolce Vita – food&wine event”. It is a consolidated event that every year sets on display Italian excellent products which are not yet present on the Bulgarian market. It is a professional event, aimed at importers and distributors of food and beverage products, large-scale distribution, wine shops, restaurants, hotels and catering companies, the media and the specialized press. More than thirty Italian F&B companies took part in the 2018 edition and more than 200 meetings were held together with about 45 Bulgarian companies.

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