The Secret of Longevity Village

On this unusual map of the world, Eastern Europe is represented at one end by two boxes of yogurt surrounded by the iconic pink roses of Bulgaria and bearing the brand name “Mosili’an.” Off to the East, at the opposite end, is an artist’s rendering of the Chinese megacity of Shanghai, teeming with modern skyscrapers. A train of camels plods between the two points, and a slogan across the top reads, in both in Chinese and Bulgarian: “Jointly Building a Yogurt New Silk Road”. The map hangs in a small village called Momchilovtsi nestled deep in the mountains of southern Bulgaria, about 50 kilometers from the Greek border. Home to just 1,200 people, the village has become a household name in China, thanks to aggressive marketing by Bright Dairy, a listed subsidiary of Shanghai’s Bright Food Group.

For Chinese, the village of Momchilovtsi is known by the shorter and more palatable “Mosili’an” – just four characters instead of six. No one is sure exactly how the variation came to be. But one guess is that Chinese marketers adopted the village’s opening “Mo” sound, and for the rest substituted an approximate rendering of “Smolyan,” the name of the province in which the village is located. Outside the Chinese language, the brand name remains “Momchilovtsi,” the village’s romanized name. 

For Bright Dairy, the result has been not just catchy but extremely lucrative. The company launched its Momchilovtsi yogurt brand in mainland China in 2009, its main selling point being that no refrigeration was necessary during the distribution and sales process. At the same time, this “room-temperature yoghurt” was marketed in China as a “healthy food product”.

This push for new branding came in the wake of the 2008 milk scandal in China, in which milk and infant formula from domestic manufacturers, including Bright Dairy, were found to contain melamine. The milk scandal encouraged widespread distrust of locally-produced milk products in China, and enhanced the appeal of foreign brands. 

Employing its two-pronged marketing strategy centered on the supposed healthiness of an apparently foreign-sourced product that required no refrigeration, Momchilovtsi steadily grew in popularity after its launch, particularly in second and third-tier cities. Its sales were given a big boost in 2012 as distribution went fully nationwide. By 2014, annual sales had reached 6 billion yuan. Finally, in 2017, Momchilovtsi landed on the Hong Kong market. 

With its now popular advertising slogan, “The Magical Secret of Longevity Village,” Bright Dairy has profited immensely from the Momchilovtsi brand, encouraging Chinese consumers to imagine new horizons of youth and good health. That imagination begins with an image readily seen on all Momchilovtsi packaging – that of a young girl dressed in traditional Bulgarian garb and holding a milk jug. The image was not invented out of thin air, but in fact comes from the old village emblem of Momchilovtsi, which features a similar young woman holding instead a loaf of bread.

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