Tereza Vítková
Director
CzechTrade México
/
Expert Contributor

Inside the Czech Republic’s Food and Beverage Culture

By Tereza Vítková | Wed, 01/26/2022 - 09:11

Since the time of the Habsburg monarchy, the Czech Republic has presented itself to the world as a country with advanced industry and innovative technologies. We are an integral part of the global automotive industry, power plants around the world depend on Czech technology, we boast an engineering tradition and Czech medical devices help patients all around the world.

Despite these achievements, which are undoubtedly impressive, when you ask a foreigner what is the first thing that comes to mind when you say the Czech Republic, the answer is usually beer. Beer is one of the components of Czech national pride and identity. Food and drink keep us alive and should, therefore, occupy a privileged position in the identity of every nation. At the same time, its export should create a vivid image of the country. In a pandemic, this is even more important, as it allows us, during a period of closed borders and restrictions, to taste a piece of a distant country and at least get closer to it through our taste buds.

When you say the Czech Republic, beer is the first thing that comes to the foreigners’ mind, but if you ask them to continue, they search their mind in vain. Why is that? Do Czechs have no other national food or drink gems besides beer? A number of Czech products are so unique that they are included in the World Intellectual Property Organization's Lisbon Agreement. In addition to Champagne or Port wine, we can also find Českobudějovické beer, Olomouc tvarůžky (a traditional Czech cheese characterized by a distinctive smell) or Žatecký Chmel (the town of Žatec and the adjacent region, with its unique climate and soil, produces Lupulo Saaz). Why doesn't the world know about these unique products?

The Czech Republic has so far failed to create an image of a food supplier, compared to other European nations. Even the private labels of local chains, under which you can often read “Made in Czech Republic,” do not help. For many Czech companies, the private label is the only ticket (but also a compromise) to reach foreign markets. Then there are the large multinational food companies that own many Czech brands. These are then rebranded. For example, Bebe biscuits are well-known in the Czech Republic but they are hidden abroad under the Belvita brand. The foreign office of the Czech state agency for trade promotion, CzechTrade Mexico, and the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Mexico have set themselves the goal of changing this perception of the Czech Republic and significantly promoting the Czech food and beverage scene in Mexico. What steps we have taken and will continue to take to achieve this can be found, among other things, in the following article.

Czech exports in the beverage segment are very poorly diversified almost 50 percent of our exports are beer, followed by soft drinks, spirits, liqueurs and, in small numbers, wine. Most of the food and drink produced in the Czech Republic is exported to neighboring Slovakia, mainly due to its cultural and historical proximity, but also to Germany, Austria and Poland. Speaking of food, the most exported are cereal and dairy products, but also coffee, tea, cocoa and cocoa products. Despite a number of unique Czech products, exports in this respect have large gaps.

The relationship with Mexico is no different, with almost 3 percent of total trade in food and agricultural products. But the modernization of the EU-Mexico FTA may soon change that. Tariffs have been removed for a number of agricultural and food products (including beverages) and import procedures, including the relevant certifications, will be significantly simplified under the new provisions.

If a Mexican consumer would like to take a peek under the hood of the Czech Republic's flavors, he or she will most often come across (as the Czech exports illustrate) Czech beer. In Mexican supermarkets, for example, you will find the famous Pilsner Urquell, from which many foreign beers take their name. The reason for this lies in its uniqueness. In 1842, the first-ever batch of bottom-fermented beer was brewed in the Czech town of Pilsen. Since then, beer of the so-called Pilsner type has spread all over the world. In addition to Pilsner Urquell, Mexican shelves also stock Czechvar, which is better known in the Czech Republic as Budweiser Budvar. There is also Templar beer (Nova Paka brewery), dark and light variations of Velkopopovický Kozel or beer from the Bernard brewery.

It is not just beer that is imported from the Czech Republic by Mexico but also its ingredients, such as hops and malts. The Czech Žatec hop (Lupulo Saaz) is known for its quality and taste among Mexican microbreweries, which use it to brew Pilsner-type beer. Czech hops and malts are also used in Mexican breweries to create local and foreign beer brands. For example, the Czech company Bohemia Hop is very successful in this.

When it comes to other alcoholic drinks, another Czech invention has gained popularity in Mexico in the past, namely high-percentage absinthe, whose basic ingredients are wormwood, aniseed and fennel. It is abundantly represented here, for example, by the Czech company Green Tree Distillery. The traditional liqueur Becherovka, which was the first herbal liqueur of this type in the world, can also be found in the Mexican market. It was created more than 200 years ago and the exact recipe is secret (passed down from generation to generation). Subsequently, foreign counterparts were created (the most famous is undoubtedly Jägermeister). In 2021, Bohemia Sekt sparkling wines appeared on Mexican shelves for the first time. This is not only a great success for the Czech food and beverage industry in Mexico but also for our office, which found a local distributor for the Czech company. A bright exception to the Czech export of food and beverages to Mexico is, for example, cereal products producer Emco, which has been successful in Mexico with its chocolate-peanut and blueberry granola.

In the past, the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Mexico, in cooperation with CzechTrade and CzechTourism (a state organization to promote the Czech Republic as a tourist destination), held a number of events to promote the Czech industry and products. However, most of them were dedicated to Czech beer. In 2018, a Pilsner Urquell launch ceremony was held at the Czech Embassy in cooperation with the Mexican distributor, and a guided tasting of Czech beers Velkopopovický Kozel, Czechvar and Pilsner Urquell took place at Hacienda de Los Morelos. The tasting included the launch of the Festival of Czech Gastronomy and Beer in Mexico. The Czech Republic was also invited as a guest of honor to the beer festival in Mexico City, Cervefest, where, in addition to the above-mentioned beers, Staropramen, Primátor, Bakalář, Herold, Černá hora and Rohozec were also presented.

In addition to beer, the Czech chocolate Carla has also shone in Mexico at the eighth annual Chocolate Festival in Tabasco, where the Czech Republic was invited as a guest of honor. For this year, CzechTrade in cooperation with the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Mexico is preparing the official participation of Czech companies in the Expo ANTAD & Alimentaria, where we want to show the whole of Mexico not only how diverse the range of products in the country is, but also to present how novel and unique Czech flavors are