Time resistance turns a well-known product or service into a brand. Romania has its share of good stories that have survived in time. Some of them won the final battle, resisting throughout transition’s hardship, others just lost the fight and retired in history, triggering sweet memories.
Yet, most of the Romanian brands that survived time passing and new capitalist order have been bought by big foreign companies.
From cars, beers, appliances, footwear to cosmetics and sweets, all these survivor brands made their way through communism to capitalism, facing financial problems, marketing rebranding needs and most of all, facing hard competition of transnational corporations’ products.
I invite you to a short time-travel among the famous Romanian brands, yet returning in the present time with up-to-date information about them.
Dacia, a continuing success story
In the 60s, communist authorities have decided to set up the first middle class car plant designed for the Romanian market. Following French President Charles de Gaulle visit in Romania in 1966, Romanian party leaders decided that the first car to be produced in our country should be based on the Renault R8 model. So, Dacia 1100 was born and the first model hit the road on 20 August 1968, embarking on a true national success story. If a Romanian family wanted to buy a Dacia car, they have to subscribe to a waiting list and it could take years before actually getting possession of it.
After the 1989 Revolution the Dacia acquisitions hysteria has gradually decreased due to the foreign cars competition and it seemed to lose serious ground so that many of us wondered if our national car brand is not on the verge of extinction. But in 1999 Renault became the majority stockholder of the Colibasi Dacia factory, preceding a great future for the Romanian car producer. The first brand new model of the Dacia-Renault partnership was the Logan, launched in 2004. Initially greeted with a grain of salt by the Romanian buyers, Logan eventually proved to be up to standard and is now still enjoying a high sounding success both in the country and abroad.
On October Dacia marked sales if 3 million units since 2004. Dacia’s stand at the 2014 Paris Motor Show provided the backdrop for a ceremony that saw Andres Palomo Paz receive the keys to a brand new Dacia Sandero Stepway – the three-millionth Dacia to be sold since 2004 – from Nicolas Wertans, Renault Group SVP Global Sales.
French car manufacturer Renault Group announced almost a month ago that in just over ten years, Dacia has sold more than 3.5 million vehicles in Europe and the Mediterranean basin.
According to a press release, the 3,500,000th Dacia is a Sandero Stepway and it was recently delivered to a customer in England. The event took place at the Dacia dealership in Mill Lane, a suburb of London.
During the first half of 2015, Dacia sales rose by 10.1 percent to reach 290,024 vehicles.
In Europe, sales increased by 5.5 percent during the first half of the year to 205,436 units. In France, Dacia steadfastly remains in fifth place on the passenger vehicle market, with 5.3 percent of market share, and in fourth place for retail customer sales.
Out of the 44 countries that sell the Dacia brand, 19 achieved record sales levels during the first six months of 2015.
Arctic, the home appliance brand
One of the most sounding Romanian brands is undoubtedly Arctic refrigerator. Arctic was born in 1970 under the name of FRIGERO. Găești producer factory chose to change its name in Arctic two years later. Arctic was quite an innovative product at that time as far as the power demand was concerned, as on a market dominated by some high input refrigerators like Fram, ZIL and Minsk, Arctic easily picked up the pace to soon becoming the market leader. Arctic was doing a nice job on the export market, too, as almost 85 per cent of them were designed for the export trade.
In 1990, the national refrigerator had a 100 per cent market share and in 1997 it was already on the stock exchange. Arctic was taken over by the Turkish Arcelik Company in 2002 and that also meant an expansion of the products range, including now gas cookers, washing machines, cooker hoods, vacuum cleaners and TV-sets.
Murfatlar, Romanian legendary wine
Located in the sunny area of the South East, in Dobrogea, Murfatlar vineyards have not created just a national wine brand, but also a destiny for the region’s locals who are still earning their living from the grape growth. But they are just continuing an old story. Scythia Minor, as Dobrogea was called in antiquity, was famous for grape wine cultivation while the wine commerce was the main occupation of the locals, the Thracians and the Greek colonies living on the Black Sea shore.
Even the great Latin poet Ovidius, exiled by the Roman emperor Augustus in the Black Sea’ Tomis citadel, has left written testimonials describing Murfatlar wine. Murfatlar name is believed to derive from Müruvet term, meaning generous man.
The actual vineyard from Murfatlar dates back in 1907 when the first grape assortments like Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Muscat Ottonel and Folle Blanche have been planted. Murfatlar state enterprise was set up in 1955 and soon became the leader of the Romanian wine producers.
Murfatlar is now the biggest vineyard in Romania laid on 3,000 hectares and belongs to a single producer. 2013 brought it an almost RON 130 M turnover and the company can also take pride in 160 medals obtained at the international wine competitions. In 2013 about 10,000 tourists have visited Murfatlar wine cellar. Murfatlar is also the official wine provider for the Romanian Royal House, while China is the biggest outlet that Murfatlar has won, as half of its export production is going to Shanghai.
ROM, reviving familiar childhood tastes
Now, let’s get sweetened a little bit and make a stop next to a mostly tasty Romanian dessert, the ROM stick. Kandia history begins in 1895 in a candy factory in Timisoara, having only six employees. In 1920 the staff number jumped to 300. However, the first rum chocolate stick showed up in 1964, which, in time, stopped complying with the original recipe and began to loose its original taste. Yet, the power swift following communism revived the brand and its previous recipe, paradoxically counting on a marketing strategy that conjured up memories from the communist times. In 2005, Kandia Excellent group hit the road for bringing ROM into fashion again through “1964 hard sensations” campaign. And the outcome was definitely satisfying as the producing company sells thousands of tons of rum chocolate sticks on an annual basis.
Eugenia, the cocoa biscuit that turned to noun
Romanian product par excellence, Eugenia cocoa biscuit is not only a brand itself but also a noun in the dictionary, thus joining other similar internationally renowned brands like Xerox or Adidas which were so powerful that they gave their name to the product itself. Born in early 60’s, Eugenia touched a wide consumer audience, ranging from adults to pupils, as the tasty cookies represented the perfect time out snack available for everyone during the breaks.
Nowadays more Romanian pastry manufacturers produce Eugenia, one of them, Bega Pam in Timisoara succeeding in exporting the product in Canada.
Guban shoes, the old Romanian stiletto style
The elegant natural leathered high-heeled shoes, resembling to the modern stilettos, were a sight for sore eyes for the Romanian women. Although produced at Guban factory in Timisoara, they were mostly sold on the foreign markets, so they were sort of ‘rara avis’ in the country. Besides they were quite expensive, they were sporadically seen on the shops’ shelves. In other terms, Guban shoes were placed under the counter, as most of the goods during communist era. The producing factory in Timisoara was set up in 1937 and has been privatized in 1995, meanwhile changing name into GP&Company.
Nowadays, Guban shoes are as refined as they used to be, but also as sparse as in the communist days. It seems to share the same old story of the good Romanian brand that can hardly get trough competition and cope with the new promotion strategies, in spite of the fact it provides far much better quality than other rival brands.
Clujana footwear’s onset to regain home market
Who hasn’t heard of Clujana fur-lined yellow boots? They were considered fancy goods even abroad where they were mostly sold, just like their brothers Guban. Clujana was set up by Renner family in 1911 and after WWI it became a joint-stock company, the biggest footwear one in Romania. Communists have seized it in 1948. During this time, until 1989, Clujana factory had 11,000 employees working on three shifts and the boots were mainly exported to the ex-Soviet Union, Canada and even Australia. The factory’s gradually limited activity after 1990 as orders have severely climbed down and ended to close down in 1998.
Fortunately, local authorities understood to save the factory and opened it again in 2004, with Cluj County Council, Priv 92 Association and SIF Oltenia as shareholders. Currently, Clujana comprises 350 employees and most of it is activating mainly based on lohn orders. This is why Clujana footwear is still hard to find in Romania, having just one production line of 5-10 per cent for the internal market, but the factory’s designers promised to reload the brand for Romanian consumers starting 2014.
Drugs and plant remedies’ brands: From Antibiotice to Plafar
Romania also succeeded in creating its own pharma and plant remedies brands.
The national pride in terms of medicine production was highly represented by Antibiotice Iasi, which was set up in 1955. It was the first pharmaceutical company in Romania but also the only one in the South-Eastern Europe to produce penicillin. In 1959 the company developed a new department to produce streptomycin but it was only in 1977 that Antibiotice Iasi got the US Food and Drug Administration’s green light to sell streptomycin drugs on the international market. Thus, in early 80s half of the company’s drug production was exported.
After 1990, over EUR 8 M investments ranked Antibiotice Iasi in the first five world penicillin producers top. It is the first Romanian producer to obtain a Good Manufacturing Practice certificate for the powder flow used to produce intravenous medicines.
As for the plant remedies’ division, Plafar, set up in 1948, used to embody not only a symbol for Cluj city but also the most important player on the vulnerary herbs market. Plafar also used to be the biggest producer of raw material for the Romanian medicine industry, providing merchandise for Terapia Cluj, Antibiotice Iasi and Farmec in Cluj. It held an important patrimony of lands and buildings all over the country. Until 1990, 243 employees were working at Plafar head office in Cluj-Napoca, including chemists and biologists.
Until 2007, Plafar was exporting vulnerary plats worth EUR 500,000 in Austria, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. 120 tons of wild roses were heading to Germany on an annual basis and tens of tons of blueberry, birch, coltsfoot, dandelion, brotherwort, horse tail leaves and crocus seeds as well. The Swiss made much of pine and fir buds and dandelion from Transylvania, while Frenchmen were fans of absinth grass and blackwort and Italians of crocus, mustard and coriander.
The state sold Plafar brand to Centrofarm pharmacy chain in 2007 for 1 million Euros, so it ceased to be a national company. It became insolvent in 2009, yet managing to escape bankruptcy three years later. At present Plafar just has the main office in Cluj and only deals with tea and coffee processing.
Farmec, Gerovital –pioneers of cosmetic and therapeutic medicine
Farmec is a symbol of Romanian cosmetics products and still ranks first on this market after 120 years of existence. It has been actually the only source of cosmetic products for the Romanian population for decades. Farmerc survived the raw materials imports cutting ordered by Ceausescu, but also the transition from a planned economy to the free market.
If in 1945 the company made only five products, its portfolio reached over 450 products in 2013.
Gerovital and Aslavital creams, Doina whitewash, but also Triumf, Nufar and the famous nettle shampoo were among the most notorious Farmec brands. Doina whitewash is still in high demand on the domestic market, while Gerovital H3 face cream is going through the Japanese market.
As a matter of fact, producers have tried to change Doina and Gerovital H3 formula and packaging, but the move was slammed by the buyers who asked for the old products, including for the old packing. When Farmec put Gerovital H3 in a new package, the Japanese clients refused it asking for the 35-year-old one. As for the Doina whitewash, Romanians still prefer it, but not only to clean their faces, but also their boots.
Farmec was a pioneer of using royal jelly as basic component of the emulsions, as well as of producing special anti wrinkle formulas rejoined in Gerovital range. The well-known biologist and physician Ana Aslan, considered “the parent of geriatrics and gerontology” discovered the anti-aging effects of procaine, based on which she developed the drugs Gerovital H3 and Aslavital.
In 1952, Aslan founded the Geriatric Institute of Bucharest. This institute was the first of its kind in the world and was recognized by the World Health Organization.
Procaine concept was firstly presented at Verona, Italy in 1957, within the fourth International Gerontology Congress. “My treatment is a solution and Gerovital H3 is not just a therapy, but also means hope and philosophy,” Aslan used to say.
However, Aslan underwent a trial run to test intravenous procaine and the treatment came to fruition not only in preventing ageing but also rheumatism. After proving its effects on thousand of persons whose ageing process was 40 percent slowed down, procaine was sold in ampoules, drops, therapeutic cream and capillary lotion.
Aslan Institute was frequented by world notable person such as Mao Zedong, Charles de Gaulle, Pablo Picasso, Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Konrad Adenauer, Aristotle Onassis, John F. Kennedy.