Entrepreneurs: Bulgaria’s Edible Cups

Miroslav Zapryanov’s “Cupffee” makes waffle coffee cups in a new factory near Plovdiv and exports 97% of the production

The idea to eat your cup after drinking the coffee in it came to Miroslav Zapryanov while he was still a student. When he grew up, he tried to do it. And in 2004 he baked his first waffle cup in his wife’s oven, and ten years later he turned his idea into a business.

Today, his dream is to replace plastic and paper coffee cups around the world with his invention. Now, in just one month, his new factory in Plovdiv produces 2.5 million biodegradable (and edible) Cupffee cups, 97% of which are exported to 30 countries on all continents. In 2022, the company will close its technological circle with waste-free technology – coffee stirrers will be prepared from the waste from the waffle cups.

All or nothing

Zapryanov started his business on an “all or nothing” basis. “I invested all my money to design and finance four prototype machines. I perfected the recipe and technology. With the fourth machine I started my first official production on 36 square meters in a small confectionery in Plovdiv,” he said at the beginning. He added: “Our daily production was 100 cups or 10 cups per hour, because I worked 10 hours. Our team was a total of three people.”

In 2014, he registered the company “Cupffee” together with Mladen Dzhalazov and Simeon Gavrailov (now the two do not own shares). A few years later, he managed to attract as partners his business angels – Sasha Bezuhanova and the co-founder of “Telerik” Svetozar Georgiev, who participates with his company “2625 Capital”, as well as other smaller investors. At the moment he remains the majority owner with 55.6% in the capital, as well as the manager of the company.

 

Ten times more

The cup-eating company began to grow, ending last year with 268,000 in sales revenue. The biggest investment so far was made in 2020-2021. With its own funds and a bank loan, Cupffee bought the factory building, where it has been rented so far, as well as an automatic production line. The company does not specify what the investment is, but according to Zapryanov, the loan is 40% of the total amount. A reference in the Commercial Register shows that at the beginning of last year Cupffee took a BGN 2.5 million loan from Unicredit Bulbank, for which a pledge has been registered, which implies an investment of about BGN 6.3 million.

The building has an area of 3600 square meters – ten times larger than the first workshop of the company, and the machine is manufactured by the Austrian company Franz Haas. “I dare say that this is the only such machine in the world for baking cups of ground grain. We designed the machine together with the Austrian engineers, and they made it completely,” says Zapryanov.

With an idea for expansion

Cupffee business plan includes a return on investment of up to 5 years. This pace will predetermine further growth. “The market suggests that we can put into operation 3 more automated lines in the next 5 years, striving for a capacity of 10 million glasses per month,” predicts the imminent development of the company Zapryanov. Moreover, the purchase of the building was made precisely with the intention to accommodate the next 3 automatic lines to the current machines.

Cupffee employs 30 people, whom the company has been constantly training since they started working there, because the technology is unique. And something very important – it requires high precision. So the previous experience of the workers is to some extent an obstacle in their work in the beginning. But they get used to it. “We manage to keep people with good working conditions and a salary higher than the average for the Plovdiv region. Our ambition is to switch to a three-shift work regime from the beginning of 2022” Zapryanov predicted.

 

Who is buying?

The clients of the Plovdiv company are recognizable all over the world: Lavazza, Etihad airlines, the Manchester City football team, National Geographic, the Economist media and the Wallstreet Journal, the Lidl retail chain. According to Miroslav Zapryanov, the breakthrough on the world market is thanks to the investors in Cupffee, who have extensive business experience worldwide. “We have developed profitable marketing and sales strategies. We are now recognizable and companies from all over the world have started to find us on their own,” he explains.

In any good story, however, there is always a “but”. “But” now comes from the restaurants in our country – cafes, restaurants, snack bars. The retail price in Bulgaria for one cup of coffee that is eaten is 35 cents. The producers have reservations to work with the Bulgarian restaurants, because the way of pricing is not suitable for their product. According to Zapryanov, when the pricing formula in a restaurant is the retail price multiplied by 2 or 3, one cup can reach BGN 1, ie almost as much as the coffee in it. It may take some time for restaurants to mature, that the price is not always leading. As the product is innovative and attractive, Cupffee so far sees more aspiration of restaurants to make only a quick profit from the cups. And the idea of ​​changing the world to green remains for the time being.

 

The recipe

Edible cups are made from ground grain. Most of the raw materials are Bulgarian. The main ingredient in biodegradable cups is oat bran, and the next is wheat flour. The rest is a patent registered in Europe and now in many countries outside it. The taste of Cupffee is neutral and is not affected by the taste of the drink in them.