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Harghita, the land of mineral springs and the most important bottling companies


Harghita County is known throughout the country for its cold winters, winter sports, wonderful landscapes, its industrious and hardworking people as well as its mineral water springs, which are found wherever you walk. To Harghita people, going to the local springs to stock on mineral water or bathe in the mineral water of the public pools and bath houses that are located throughout the county. Given the circumstances, it is no wonder that the two most important mineral water bottling factories of Romania operate in Harghita County, with one of them having been declared the most powerful Romanian brand, two years in a row.

Over 2,000 naturally carbonated mineral water springs are estimated to exist in Harghita, but few of them are harnessed for use in economic activities that would generate royalties to the Romanian Government.

Director General of the Borsec bottling company Florin Raducu Lazaroiu says that only 30% of the natural mineral water springs nationwide have been studied and only 17% of them are bottled.

'The potential that we have as a country in this respect is huge, given that mineral water is the only natural mineral resource of Romania that is entirely renewable in real time, that is in a lifetime, provided that the area where the water exists is not destroyed or polluted by human activities,' said Florin Raducu Lazaroiu.

* Borsec- The most powerful Romanian brand known throughout the world

Few are those who have not heard of the Borsec mineral water, which fame has exceeded for more than 200 years the country's borders. In 2013, the Borsec factory was declared, for the second consecutive year, the most powerful Romanian brand and its bottled mineral water has been several times recognised as the best in the world.

The Borsec springs have been known since the Romans, who discovered them after their conquest of Dacia. They have a special feature that the bottling plant manager, Florin Raducu Lazaroiu, reveals to us.

'Numerous mineral water springs in this area are supplied with water coming from melting snow and the temperature is about ten degrees Celsius, which is unusual, given that the carbonated mineral water of the West Plains and the Brasov Depression, as well as that of the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and France is warm, at 18-22 degrees Celsius,' Lazaroiu explains.

Many centuries later, after their discovery by the Romans, the Borsec mineral water started being bottled in burnt clay jugs that were mounted on horses to be carried to Transylvania, Moldavia, Wallachia and Hungary. There are historical records indicating that the Borsec mineral water would be carried by wagons in 1597, in oak barrels, to the Alba Iulia Royal Court, where it was used for medical purposes by ruler Sigismund Bathory. In 1844, poet Alecsandri arrived at Borsec and one year later he was enthusing about the quality, bottling and transport of the Borsec water in a text published in 'Calendarul foaeiei satesti.'

Mineral water bottling at Borsec has a history covering more than 200 years and started in 1803 when a Viennese citizen healed from an incurable disease after a treatment with the local mineral water. Upon returning home, he suggested to Vienna city councillor Anton Zimmethausen, a geologist by trade, to trade in Borsec mineral water. The councillor moved in 1805 to Borsec, opened a bottle factory, and a year later he started industrial bottling of the water.

According to the documents, there were 5,000 bottles bottled per day and packaged in crates filled with hay or fir tree branches as shock absorbers. Over the years, bottling was performed by different owners and stalled for two years each during WWI and WWII.

With the nationalisation of 1948, the bottling business became a state monopoly and significant investments were made in upgrading production and developing the area. After 1989, the Government-run enterprise turned private and the successful history of the brand lived on.

The same as under Emperor Franz Josef, when it was already recognised in Europe and received a gold medal at the Vienna International Exposition, the Borsec mineral water is rewarded periodically with various titles in international competitions.

In 2005, the carbonated Borsec mineral water was awarded a special gold medal, while the Borsec non-sparkling water received a gold medal in the World Quality Selections organised by the Brussels-based International Institute for Quality Selections. In 2013, for the second consecutive year, Borsec was named the most powerful Romanian brand. While 60 million litres per year would be bottled in 1990, last year the output was 400 million litres.

The mineral water of the small town in Harghita County is currently reaching out across continents, being exported to countries like the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, and even Australia.

*** Perla Harghitei, an uninterrupted 40-year history of the plant at Sancraieni

Another major player in the market for mineral water bottling is Perla Harghitei, a factory in the commune of Sancraieni built in 1974, which brand has been bottled and marketed continuously for 40 years.

According to marketing manager Istvan Puskas, the factory was owned by Apemin Borsec before 1989 and it was established as an independent company under its present name in 1990.

'The most important event after being established as the independent Perla Harghitei company occurred in 1995, when the company's three factories existing back then were privatised. The company turned private by a management employee buyout, with the employees becoming shareholders, which has been the case ever since. The company is a closed joint stock company running entirely on Romanian private capital despite many offerings that came over time for its purchase by various investors, foreign companies, multinational corporations. This was possible particularly because of product quality and the skills of the people who did and still do the business. This is a typical case of a business carried out by people who do the best thing they know as they are specialists in this area,' says Istvan Puskas.

Perla Harghitei, unlike many producers and contrary to market trends, has kept in its portfolio returnable bottles of 1 and 0.5 litres, and the company's Perla Harghitei and Tiva labels are bottled in returnable bottles as well as PET bottles and even customised premium bottles.

'Preserving the returnable bottles is part of our tradition, as well as the company living out the slogan of its Perla Harghitei label, which is ‘Love nature!',' says Puskas Istvan.

In the past 40 years, the plant of Sancraieni has been continuously developed and modernised, going from two bottling lines in 1974 to currently seven bottling lines, with a total capacity of 150 million litres a year.

The water bottled in the commune of Sancraieni regularly reaches Hungary, the USA, Canada, the Republic of Moldova, but also Iraq, Australia, Israel, Colombia and the Russian Federation.

'The Perla Harghitei mineral water is naturally hydrogen-carbonated mineral water, rich in calcium, sodium and magnesium, with a medium content of mineral salts that stimulates the appetite, promotes digestion and can facilitate hepato-biliary functions ,' Puskas Istvan concludes.

These are the two largest bottling plants in the county, but they are joined by other equally famous factories, such as Tusnad, Bilbor and Mineral Quantum.

*** The Mineral Water Road, a joint project conducted by the counties of Harghita and Covasna

The inhabitants of Harghita County are proud that the water bottled in their county spreads their fame worldwide, but most locals drink the mineral water 'that flows by the roadside.' In many localities in the county there is at least one spring where people periodically stock on water, thus avoiding the expenses entailed by buying mineral water in stores.

All thorough the county, there are also public mineral water pools for bathing. Regular bathers say the water freshen them up and keep them healthy. Erstwhile, many localities used to have traditional mineral baths that fell in disrepair, but in recent years some of them have been refurbished and brought back to life. And this because NGOs and authorities of Harghita and Covasna came to realise the great potential of the mineral water springs and started carrying out projects to promote them and to attract tourists to the area.

The Mineral Water Road project was started many years ago by the Partnership Foundation of Miercurea Ciuc, patterned on the US and Western European model of green roads. Using funds from the foundation, traditional bath houses were rehabilitated, a museum of mineral waters opened and books were published about the region's mineral waters. Subsequently, the idea was taken over by the county councils of Harghita and Covasna, which won a European project called the Mineral Water Road, which aims to modernise and specially design the surroundings of mineral water springs in the participating localities to develop local tourism and economic life.

The Mineral Water Road crosses Harghita, the Jigodin, Szejke and Tusand bath areas, Borsec, Homorod Bai and Remetea.

Under the project, alleys, streets and green areas were modernised, bridges and retaining walls were refurbished, and spa wards were modernised in localities where mineral springs are public property. The project includes construction of two pools at Homorod and Remetea, modernisation of public lighting in each locality and building at Borsec a sewerage network in the project area.

Another European project conducted by the authorities of the two counties is aimed at promoting the mineral water of Harghita and Covasna by participating in exhibitions, organising marketing events and drawing up a joint marketing policy for the mineral water springs. Using public funds from the Ministry of Regional Development, the Harghita County Council and local administrations have restored and refurbished nine traditional bath houses in several areas of the county.

*** Mineral water has two museums - at Tusnad Sat and Borsec

Mineral water has two museums in Harghita County. One opened in 2005, at Tusnad Sat, and the other opened in 2008 at Borsec.

The museum at Tusnad Sat is built in the form of a Mongolian yurt, housing old mineral water bottling installations, geology books, maps, pitchers that used to hold mineral water in the old days, as well as bottles and mineral water labels. Tourists can learn more about the history of this area that is extremely rich in mineral springs, and how they have influenced the locals' lives.

The exhibits come from donations made by locals, the Szekler Museum of Ciuc or by various mineral water bottlers from the area. The museum initiative belonged to the Miercurea Ciuc Association for Nature Protection, and the project was funded by the Foundation for Partnership of Miercurea Ciuc.

The Museum at Borsec was funded jointly by the mayor's office and the local mineral water bottling plant. The local history, which is interwoven with the history of mineral water exploitation, is displayed in a special area.

Tourists and locals alike have the opportunity to see over 100 objects and photographs, from mineral water bottle labels to containers used to carry the water 200 years ago. The oldest exhibit at the Museum of mineral water at Borsec is a bottle that was used for mineral water storage in the late 1800s.

The mineral water springs of Harghita are richness insufficiently exploited that will keep on giving as long as people are aware that they must protect the earth from which the water springs.

 (Source: agerpres.ro)