Friday, 23 April 2021

Osijek Belje Factory Retains Employees, Creates Own Queen Cow Milk Brand

April the 23rd, 2021 - The Queen Cow milk brand (Kravica kraljica) is the newest Croatian milk brand to come out of a successful year for the Osijek Belje factory which managed to retain most of its workforce despite the economic woes caused by the pandemic.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, if you've been following the business news in Croatia you'll likely recall that not so long ago, a relatively well known company called Belje took over the Osijek-based Meggle dairy factory, managing to keep hold of about 250 subcontractors and about 90 employees, according to a report from

The factory was successfully saved during turbulent times for all and even started producing something new, the aforementioned Queen Cow milk brand (Kravica kraljica). This week, this new Croatian milk finally hit the shelves of numerous stores.

Belje Plus CEO Andrej Dean also revealed recently that it is "the only one in Croatia that has more than 4,000 cows in its own production, thus providing more than 35 million litres of milk to the public from its own sources.''

In addition, the company Vupik from the wider Fortenova Group (formerly Agrokor) produces an additional 12 million litres, and with another 13 million litres from subcontractors, meaning that they have a total of more than 58 million litres of milk per year.

This also means that Belje's other products, such as their popular cheeses and spreads, are made one hundred percent from Croatian milk. The Osijek Belje factory is now busy and planning new investments worth 10 million euros.

To briefly recall, Belje took over the factory in Osijek at the end of last year because Meggle decided to withdraw from the Republic of Croatia. Before announcing its departure, Meggle had about 270 subcontractors and about 160 employees.

For much more on Croatian companies and domestic products, make sure to follow our dedicated business section.

Friday, 22 January 2021

22 January: Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia

January 22, 2021 – January 22 is Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia. Marked significantly in continental winemaking regions, its folk traditions pre-date Christianity and are celebrated with food, wine, music and merriment

Nearing the end of January, it's not uncommon to see snow on the fields of Croatia. The ground can be hard, brittle, frozen. There's little to be done in them right now. And yet, on 22 January in Croatia, winemakers traditionally head to their vineyards. They do this not to undertake a day's work – for today is a day of rest. Instead, they go there to mark the tradition of Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

Croatia_Baranja_Belje_Vineyard_0184_1.jpgSt. Vincent's Day in Baranja © Romulić & Stojčić

Vinceška, Vincekovo, Vinkovo, Vincelovo, Vinceće - St. Vincent's Day

As a name, Vincent has many variants, Vinko being one popular in Croatia. Similarly, Vincekovo is also known by several different names. For example, St. Vincents Day in Baranja is called Vinceška, in Erdut it's Vincekovo, in Ilok it's Vinkovo, but you can also hear it called Vincelovo and even Vinceće.

Vincekovo_GVT-2019-14a_1.jpgVincekovo marked with wine and meat in traditional folk costume in Varaždinske Toplice © Grad Varaždinske Toplice

Vincekovo is mostly marked in the northern continental area of the country and throughout the entire far east of Croatia - eastern Slavonia, Baranja and the Croatian part of Syrmia, around Ilok. In these places, it is a day inextricably linked with the production of wine. That people seem to associate St Vincent as 'the wine guy' seems reasonable – Vinko and vino (the Croatian word for wine) are almost the same, right? Well, not quite.

The related name Viktor (also used in Croatia) actually gives us the best example of the meaning of the name. Vincent comes from the Latin word 'vincere' (to conquer or to be victorious). But, although it looks similar in Latin, the word for wine is much, much older. And it may have an entirely different root.

Ilok2020.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2020 © Youtube screenshot

Why we say 'wine'

Nobody is really sure where the word 'wine' comes from. The ancient Greek word 'oinos' certainly pre-dates the Latin but its true origins have been lost in time. This provides an entertaining mystery for today. Fascinatingly, we find a common origin word for wine in several completely different language groups.

You can trace the historic use of the word 'wine' through a vast territory. In ancient times, the name was used in the area of what is today southern Russia and nearby in the Caucasus. Although they belong to a different non-Indo European language group, peoples in what is modern-day Georgia used the same word. In the western Semitic languages of the Levant (Arabic: wain, Hebrew: yayin) it is the same. In Mediterranean languages like Latin and Greek, it is also virtually the same word. Travelling back up to the territory of modern-day Russia, this time through regions where ancient Slavic and Germanic languages were spoken, the word is still the same. It seems that ever since people learned how to cultivate and ferment grapes, they have somehow all referred to the end product using the same word.

Who knows? Perhaps there is a shared origin for the words? As any winemaker will tell you, to make good wine, you do need to conquer the vines. DNA testing proves that the vines from which we grow grapes originally come from varieties that grew historically in the wild in an area that is today Russia and central Europe. Yet, the earliest traces of wine production are found in more southerly regions, where the climate is warmer. This journey itself is a conquering act of cultivation. In early Indo-European languages, the root 'wei' means to turn or to bend. Could the word wine be referring to human manipulation of the wild vines?

The earliest evidence of grapevine cultivation and wine production comes from the South Caucasus, present-day Georgia and dates back at least 8000 years.

1275px-Barry_capitaine._F._25._Grand_vase_pour_la_conservation_du_vin_en_Kacheti_Géorgie._Mission_scientifique_de_Mr_Ernest_Chantre._1881.jpgA Georgian man in traditional dress stands alongside a qvevri, a clay pot used for making Georgian wine in 1881. Once filled, the clay amphora are buried beneath the ground, which helps regulate the temperature of the fermenting wine. Evidence of winemaking in the region is the oldest in the world - it goes back 8000 years  © Public domain

Saint Vincent aka Vincent of Saragossa (Vinko iz Zaragoze)

Vicente_de_Zaragoza_by_Tomás_Giner_14621466_1.jpgVicente de Zaragoza by Tomás Giner

Although several saints share the name Vincent, the Saint Vincent we celebrate on 22 January is Vincent of Saragossa. Born to a well-off family in Saragossa (Zaragoza), north-eastern Spain, Vincent devoted his life to the church and became deacon in the Church of Saragossa. He was tortured under the persecution of Christians demanded by Roman Emperor Diocletian. Vincent was asked to renounce his faith - which he refused to do. Subsequently, he was martyred around the year 304. We mark St Vincent's Day in Croatia and the western Christian world on 22 January as this is presumed to be the actual day of his death. Vincent of Saragossa is not only the patron saint of winemakers but also of vinegar makers. This may come as a comfort to some less able wine producers.

Basilica_del_Pilar-sunset.jpgCathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and the Puente de Piedra bridge on the Ebro River in Saragossa, the birthplace of St Vincent © Paulo Brandao

Quite why the midwinter period of 22 January should be significant to winemakers poses some questions. “I have no idea!” one Dalmatian winemaker told TCN when asked to explain the significance of the day to his craft. “But, you know those Slavonians are all crazy, right?” And, on the surface, his unknowing is quite understandable. There is little happening in the frozen fields right now. But, it is possible that this celebration pre-dates not only St Vincent but also Christianity itself.

History of 22 January as Saint Vincent's Day (Vincekovo)

Vincekovo-slika-Likovna-Republika.jpgA Croatian painting tellingly shows how traditions of St Vincent's Day in Croatia have little changed over the years © Tourist Board Jestrebarsko

Everyone's favourite ancient God at the party, Dionysus had a wide portfolio of fun stuff to look after. He was the Greek God of wine, the grape harvest, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre. He was traditionally celebrated in the period from the 11th to the 13th of anthesterion - which in today's calendar corresponds to the period between late January - around now - and the start of February. On the wild feast of Dionysus (who is sometimes called Bacchus or Liber, as in liberty, freedom), barrels of new wine were broken open. The celebration marked the impending arrival of the new season – spring. And, this too is how people mark St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

1775px-Cornelis_de_Vos_-_El_triunfo_de_Baco.jpgThe Triumph of Bacchus, a 17th-century painting by Cornelis de Vos © Public domain

Several saints' days in Croatia and Europe correspond to significant points in the agricultural calendar. This tellingly reveals their pre-Christian roots. Another of those corresponding to winemaking is Martinje – St Martin's Day in Croatia (which you can read about here). However, Martinje is traditionally a more proletarian festivity – it comes at the end of the harvest when there is no more hard work for all the manual labourers to do. Vincekovo is a day more traditionally associated with their boss - the vineyard owner. It is also traditionally a more testosterone-filled affair – a sausage party, perhaps. Well, you could say that, and in more ways than one.

Vinceška-Vina-Belje-2019-21-960x640meats.jpgKulen and other sausages, hung traditionally beside the vines on St Vincent's Day - the company that made these, Belje, is one of the best and most famous in Croatia. They trace their history in the Baranja region back to the year 1697. In Baranja, you'll most likely hear this day called Vinceška © Belje

Music, food, theatre and wine - traditions of Vincekovo, Saint Vincent's Day in Croatia

Around this time of year, vines within the vineyard will be cut back. There are a limited amount of nutrients that can pass down a vine. This cutting back ensures the nutrients are concentrated and helps guarantee a limited but good crop. Whether this cutting back has actually taken place in days prior, on Vincekovo vineyard owners are charged with visiting their vines. Whatever the weather, they will march into the fields and ceremoniously cut back a vine. Usually, it's one with at least three new buds on. Traditionally, this vine is then brought into the home and placed in a watered jar. The progress of the buds supposedly predicts the next season's crops. Many other folk traditions associated with Vincekovo also serve the same purpose of 'predicting the crops'. Melting snow, rain and sunshine on Vincekovo are also regarded as predictors of a fine harvest. Although, some believe that water dripping from the eaves on Vincekovo could mean the year will be wet.

Pavlomir_Novi_Vinodol_Primorsko-Goranska.jpgVincekovo celebrated in Pavlomir, Novi Vinodol, Primorsko-Goranska County © Youtube screenshot

Again following Dionysian traditions, Slavonian people are famously gregarious. They rarely make the trip to the vineyard alone. Neighbours, family, friends and even musicians might make the journey with them and join in the blessing of the vines. In Croatia today, you can still see some people undertaking this ceremony in traditional folk costume.

Vinkovo_in_Ilok_2019.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2019. Brrrrrr! © Youtube screenshot

The vine that has been pruned is ritually sprinkled with old wine. Song and drinking accompany the ceremony. Both old and new wine may make an appearance. No Slavonia or Baranja party is complete without kulen, their king of sausages. And, on Vincekovo, it is traditional to hang kulen and/or švargla (another monstrous portion of preserved pig product) from a post. Supposedly, this theatre is done in order to encourage the next season's crop to be as fertile and bountiful as these sizeable sausages.

1626px-Sacrificio_a_Baco_Massimo_Stanzione.jpgSacrifice to Bacchus by Massimo Stanzione c. 1634 © Public domain. Some of the folk traditions observed on St Vincent's Day in Croatia probably pre-date Christianity

Hearty snacks usually accompany the celebration in the fields. After the ceremonious part is taken care of, people now think to return indoors. Although, not necessarily to your own home. Because now is the traditional time to march around the locale to visit the wine cellars of your neighbouring growers. If you're a winemaker of a Dionysian bent, you'll probably take along some food with you like kulen, a roasted pig or even the tamburica musicians who came to the fields with you. Croatians rarely arrive at a party with empty hands. If such treats are not taken to the event, probably they'll already be waiting in your neighbour's cellar. Although, you might have to pace yourself. If you live in an area of traditional winemaking, there could be quite a lot of neighbouring wine cellars to visit. Subsequently, celebrations on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia - can extend well into the night.

fishp.jpegFiš paprikaš is a spicy river fish stew, richly red from paprika. It is popular in Slavonia, Baranja and Syrmia. Along with the wild meats stew čobanac and whole šaran (carp), butterflied and cooked outside over an open flame, it is a warming and popular dish to eat in eastern Croatia on St Vincent's Day © Romulić & Stojčić

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Is Belje Purchasing Meggle and Keeping 70% of Employees in Osijek?

As Novac/Nikola Patkovic writes on the 21st of October, 2020, milk processing and production in Osijek will not be shut down on December the 31st, 2020. Instead, the Osijek milk factory, currently called Meggle, will start operating in the system of the Fortenova Group on the first day of the new year, under the name of their company Belje Plus, which will buy the Osijek factory.

Thus, the crisis, which occurred three months ago when the German Meggle announced that it was ending its production in Osijek and Croatia at the end of this year, will still have a happy epilogue, because the factory will not close, and the ''victims'' of the decision will eventually be minimal. Although neither Fortenova, ie Belje, nor Meggle want to officially confirm that an agreement has been reached, according to unofficial information, the "ironing out" of the last details is currently in progress, but the majority of the agreement has been reached. Belje will thus keep up to 70 percent of Meggle's 160 workers and continue processing and milk production in the Eastern city of Osijek, some workers will probably retire early, and some of them will be offered jobs in one of the other business units by Belje. Additionally, they plan to take over all subcontractors who want to continue working with them, and there are 282 of them.

The agreement

''The agreement is nearing its end and the last details are being agreed on. It's also important that Meggle keeps its promise that it will keep hold of all of its workers until the end of the year and pay them their salaries, and after that it will pay them the agreed severance pay,'' a person familiar with the negotiations between Belje and Meggle revealed.

It's worth reminding ourselves of the fact that Meggle's announcement that it is leaving Osijek and Croatia caused a big shock in Slavonia, which is already economically devastated and for which the closing of the factory with 160 jobs would be an additional blow/ Osijek-Baranja County Prefect Ivan Anusic was especially fierce at the time, saying that he was ready to initiate various types of pressure on Meggle because of such a decision. However, high-level meetings followed in the following days, in which the Croatian Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, joined in, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic supported finding a solution that would preserve the 71-year tradition of Osijek's dairy industry. Anusic announced a few weeks ago that the end of negotiations on the takeover of Meggle was in sight.

''Talks with Meggle are over. Meggle is leaving, but 65 to 75 percent of workers will stay working. We'll take care of the other workers. Production will continue in Meggle's plants, and the details should be reported to the public by those who led the negotiations,'' said Anusic two weeks ago on HRT's Otvoreno/Open show. Even now, he didn't want to go into details until the company itself announces them.

Meggle responded to an inquiry by saying that they "have made great efforts to ensure a positive outcome of the talks with several potentially interested companies. The negotiations are at a very high stage, but without the consent of other parties and given the obligation of confidentiality, we can't give you more information ".

Dukat also showed interest in buying Meggle, and the owner of Zito, Marko Pipunic, once said that he was interested, but there were no negotiations on the matter. When it comes to the workers, it is known that the unions have agreed with Meggle's management on their severance pay, which is 25 percent more than the legal obligation, and a total of eight million kuna has been provided for them.

More than 4000 cows

Belje, by the way, also has a dairy cattle farm with more than 4,000 cows that produce 35 million litres of milk a year, as well as a dairy factory where famous Belje cheeses are prepared. With this acquisition, Belje will increase its share of milk purchases on the Croatian market from 11 to 16 percent, but will still remain the third player on that scene, where two thirds of the market is held by Dukat with 42 percent and Vindija with 29 percent.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Agrokor's Shares Continue to Grow

Some signs of long awaited recovery in Agrokor as shares belonging to the ailing company continue to grow strongly.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Todorić: ''Hybrid War Against Croatia Being Driven by Government and Ramljak''

According to Ivica Todorić, the apparent hybrid war facing Croatia is all at the hands of the government and of course, Agrokor's extraordinary commissioner...

Friday, 17 November 2017

Agrokor Indebted by 700 Million Kuna to Towns and Municipalities

It isn't just creditors who are hungry for their money back...

Monday, 30 January 2017

Authentic Croatian Flavours Presented to German Customers

Agrolaguna and Belje took part in a fair in Berlin.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Croatian Food Products Expanding to Asia

Companies from Croatia participated in the Hong Kong Food Festival.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

It is Grape Harvest Time in Croatia: The Rolling Belje Vineyards in Baranja

From the small family picker to the mechanical harvester, Croatians are in their fields. The view from Belje in Baranja.