Atanas Yanev and Ognian Lulchev own "Bravo", a modern meat processing company located in the outskirts of Sofia.
Both men are in their forties. In 1993, they started a small meat processing company with a handful of people. Their daily output was around 300 kg. Three years later, the economic meltdown that brought down Bulgaria's banking system and its currency almost delivered a fatal blow to "Bravo". Atanas Yanev recalls the early days of hardship:
"At that time we got up at four o'clock every day. We started work at five. We came home at midnight. And we did this every day. It took months before we weathered the crisis.
"At the beginning we were on the verge of bankruptcy two or three times a year. The business climate was terrible. There was no market and there weren't any rules or reliable banks. Interest rates were at ten percent per month."
In 1997 business began to improve, however. That year Bravo produced its first sausages and could expand its payroll to 100 employees.
Today, Bravo's premises extend over 3 hectares. Its new buildings offer 6,000 square metres of space. The grass between the buildings is perfectly maintained like on a golf course. "We're currently processing between ten and twenty tons of meat per day. The business employs around 250 people," explains Yanev.
In the company's meeting room a huge illuminated map shows the network of distributors across the country. In 2005 turnover stood at € 12 million; it has increased by another 20% in the fist six months of 2006.
Like 356 other food processors, Bravo has benefited from SAPARD projects. The first of these, amounting to a total investment cost of € 1.5 million, allowed the company to buy 6 machines for the production of sausages. One of these can inject sauces or cheese into sausages.
Bravo also hired a lawyer specialised in EU issues; it had already prepared a strategy for meeting EU standards in 2002. "Over the last years we not only brought our production standards up to EU level, but we also reformed the internal structure of our company. An additional benefit of SAPARD was that we have learned how to design EU-style projects," says Ognian Lulchev.