Interview with Mrs. Bibiana Stanciulov, CEO of Sonimpex Serv. Com.
Romania has local traditions with an extraordinary potential. Thus, in 2011, the famous Romanian Topoloveni jam became one of the over 1,000 food and other products protected by the European quality food system. Through this European recognition an important step was made in the promotion and protection of the quality of Romanian products. However, there is still more to be done: Romanian part still has to change its mentality and Europe needs to trust our ambition.
Mrs. Stanciulov, you managed to make from Topoloveni jam a Romanian brand which you want to impose on international markets. Where this ambition comes from?
Ambition is an attitude which was part of my education. I know that to succeed in life I should cultivate my will to overcome the obstacles. Sometimes, it happened to me to create my own barriers over which I was forced to check my own limits. I am a big fan of the idea of being Romanian and, practically, I wanted to convey Romanians’ value: the gastronomic culture of JAM. Jam is the Romanian’s “mirror”. The jam is clean, healthy, tasty/beautiful, is ROMANIAN. Foreign markets have to accept this product because it represents us, because it has an exceptional quality and, implicitly, we, Romanians, are exceptional people.
Have the Romanian authorities resonated in any way in this endeavour? What feedback have you received from foreigners?
The authorities are as “young” as Romania is. They have about 25 years old, a very beautiful age, but without knowing much about how to assume things. It’s the age when you have more than you are required to offer. Unfortunately, I believe that we, Sonimpex, have surprised the authorities with our determination to get the EU certification and many state institutions have not understood the meaning of „being protected”, not even today.
The economic piracy and the unfair competition who “attacked” our company as a manufacturer of the plum jam brought us serious property and image damages. It’s been three years since Topoloveni plum jam obtained the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and there is no other second Romanian product with an European certification. This Indication is a ’promotion key’ for EU consumers, but to promote outside EU, we turned to different International Institutes of Taste and Quality to give us the status of excellent and functional food product. There are markets where the jam was appreciated, markets of those countries where eating and feeding are different concepts and where natural products are required by law.
Throughout your career as entrepreneur have you encountered some prejudices of being female or Romanian?
I have not allowed anyone by my attitude to think of myself as an inferior copy of the human species or inferior to the other sex. Each of us, I think, is seen by those around us through the image we convey about what we want and what we do. I often happened to release some kind of fear around me, being known my intransigence against cheating. There is inequality in terms of education, of development as species, of physical force, a.s.o., but I didn’t accept this type of inequality between female and male.
In a previous interview you said that one of the Romanians’ faults, emphasized due to feed constraints until ’90s, is snobbery. What do you mean exactly?
The very long period until 1990 made us look “over the fence” to what was in the West as attitude, fashion, food… This created an unusual admiration, without judgment for all that was brought from Occident. Here it comes the forbidden fruit theory. Breaking ‘90s social barriers allowed hyper and supermarket chains to speculate this desire of those Romanians of a certain level of education to imitate Western culture. We were stuffed by packaging carefully designed. What contain those packages? Probably, we will find out starting December 13, 2014 when the labeling process will be set in order so that every consumer should know what that product is. Good part of us have been treated like lab experiments, taking advantage of the fact that many Romanians have tried to break away from communism, refusing any value from that era. It is a carefully studied snobbery carried on by financial interests to destroy the local healthy products, to transform us into sales market. The problem is “how long we are going to resist as sale market?!”
Where is it now Tooloveni jam, financially speaking and what plans do you have with this business in the coming period? Have you been tempted to sell the business?
Topoloveni plum jam has financial problems because of the ’economic parasites’ which attacked us by unfair competition. This kind of parasites are hypermarkets and producers. For exemple, we proved in court that “Sympathica jam”, Lidl’s private label, was not jam. Plum jam placement on shelves was a huge intellectual and financial effort in which we invested. Although starting 2013 we managed to standardize the Topoloveni plum jam, manufacturers continued to deceive consumers falsely inscribing ‘JAM’ on other labels. These producers have formed a group that has established a unique price, three times lower than the real jam. We notified state authorities and we initiated a legal act which became mandatory as of June 12, 2014. I am absolutely surprised to see that even now you can still found totally non-compliant “jams” on the shelves.
I said earlier that I have never believed in the difference between the sexes in terms of entrepreneurship, but now I’m thinking very seriously. How many men had my degree endurance? As of 2011 we have been attacked as it has never happened in Romania. It is a further proof that I have a great dose of ambition and I will not give up. Topoloveni jam business is my titanic work made with my family, my daughter – Diana Sonia, and together with and a passionate team. It would be impossible to think at the jam as “bartering”.
What does December 1 mean to you and what message do you have for the other Romanians?
December 1st is our national day, but I do not accept festivism only this day. It is the second birthday for each Romanian. We must be conscious that Romanians are a very important nation and we must not become an amorphous population without legitimacy. We must put our Romanian brand on everything we think, do and eat and we should be very proud of this mark!