`Q&A with Hidamet Asa, Chairman of Turkish Olive Giant Marmarabirlik - Olive Oil Times

Q&A with Hidamet Asa, Chairman of Turkish Olive Giant Marmarabirlik

Aug. 26, 2010
Umut Egitimci

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One of Turkey’s biggest olive and olive oil pro­duc­ers, Marmarabirlik was estab­lished in 1954 as an asso­ci­a­tion of Agricultural Sales Cooperatives, cul­ti­vat­ing and mar­ket­ing high qual­ity olives with mutual assis­tance and coop­er­a­tion. Its admin­is­tra­tive cen­ter is located in Bursa and the asso­ci­a­tion cov­ers coop­er­a­tives of Gemlik (1942), Mudanya (1951), Orhangazi (1955), İznik (1970) in Bursa and Erdek (1952), Edincik (1976), Marmara Island (1988) in Balıkesir and Mürefte (1986) in Tekirdağ. Marmarabirlik’s main activ­ity is to process the olives cul­ti­vated by the part­ners in South Marmara Region, as edi­ble olives, olive oil and olive paste as well as mar­ket­ing them to domes­tic and for­eign mar­kets. Chairman of the Board of Directors Hidamet Asa answered our ques­tions about the com­pany and the indus­try. Marmarabirlik employs around 600.

OOT: Can you tell us where Marmarabirlik is stand­ing in the indus­try today?

HA: Marmarabirlik is one of the biggest olive pro­duc­ers and among the biggest 500 indus­trial estab­lish­ments in Turkey. We have become the 345th com­pany on Istanbul Chamber of Commerce list as well as 41st on Bursa Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s list. Our com­pany is estab­lished on a total area of 403,000 square meters with a build­ing area of 136,000 square meters (450,000 sq. ft.), and a stor­age capac­ity of 70,400 tons. It is a very impor­tant indus­trial estab­lish­ment pro­vid­ing added value for the Turkish econ­omy with an olive pack­ing capac­ity of approx­i­mately 150 tons/day and olive oil pro­duc­tion and fill­ing of 220 tons/day in a hygienic place within mod­ern plants.

Marmarabirlik pur­chases and processes approx­i­mately 40 – 45% of the edi­ble black olive cul­ti­vated in the region and serves its prod­ucts within Turkey through 60 agen­cies in 53 cities, and to Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Europe, Canada, Australia, and America. Last year, our sales were 144,572,000 lira (approx. US$95 mil­lion) from 25,000 tons of olives, olive paste and olive oil.

Marmarabirlik is also a leader in licensed trad­ing stor­age.” Our com­pany has built licensed olive and olive oil stor­age with the help of grants by the IMF (International Monetary Fund). When pro­ducer asso­ciates hand over their prod­ucts they will get deposit slips for these prod­ucts and be able to use them as cash. Licensed trad­ing stor­age in Başköy dis­trict of Bursa has a capac­ity of 5,000 tons for olives and the one in Erdek has a capac­ity of 8,000 tons. Also the one in Başköy, has a capac­ity of 4,000 tons for olive oil.

OOT: What do you think of Turkey’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion about pro­duc­ing and con­sum­ing olive oil?

HA: Generally olive oil pro­duc­tion is between 120,000 and 170,000 tons in our coun­try. Domestic con­sump­tion is less than 100,000 tons. I believe the tax and quota lim­i­ta­tions of EU (European Union) coun­tries are mak­ing it very hard to export olive oil.

OOT: What about the cul­ture of olive oil in Turkey?

HA: Olive oil cul­ture in Turkey is still devel­op­ing. Olive oil is known and con­sumed in the regions of Aegean coast, Marmara and Mediterrenean, how­ever the con­sump­tion is really low in the regions of Black Sea Coast, Eastern Anatolia and Southeast Anatolia. It’s sad to see that the olive oil con­sump­tion per per­son in our coun­try is only around 2kg while our neigh­bor coun­try Greece’s num­ber is around 20 kg.

OOT: Was the olive oil indus­try affected by the finan­cial cri­sis? If so, how?

HA: First of all, it’s impor­tant to clar­ify the cost issue of olive oil. In today’s con­di­tions, the cost of olives for olive oil is more than 1 Turkish lira (about 65 cents). When we think about it, we can pro­duce 1 kg of olive oil from approx­i­mately 5kg of olives and that means the gross cost of olive oil is 5 lira ($3.27) before pack­ag­ing (per kg). When you add the extra costs of stor­age, pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing, the num­bers are get­ting higher. When prices increase, con­sumers will even­tu­ally choose the less expen­sive veg­etable oil options. However, it’s nec­es­sary to encour­age our con­sumers to buy more olive oil for healthy ben­e­fits as well as to sup­port the pro­duc­ers and this impor­tant prod­uct of olive oil.

OOT: How’s Marmarabirlik doing in for­eign mar­kets? Are exports increas­ing?

HA: If we com­pare the first 7 months of the past 6 years, we can say that our export amounts have increased between 19 — 82 % and exports have increased between 24 – 118 %. These men­tioned num­bers show that Marmarabirlik’s share in the inter­na­tional mar­ket is increas­ing by each pass­ing year. Especially in 2010, Marmarabirlik has man­aged to get into new mar­kets includ­ing South Africa, Dubai, Georgia and New Zealand. We’re mak­ing plans to increase our exports for the future and have goals of get­ting into new mar­kets includ­ing Japan, Iraq, Iran, Russia and Ukraine.

OOT: Can you tell us about the company’s future projects?

HA: Marmarabirlik’s annual extra-vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion is around 1500 tons. The licensed olive oil stor­age of 4000 tons capac­ity is not only offer­ing ser­vices for the asso­ciate pro­duc­ers of Marmarabirlik, but also for other pro­duc­ers. Marmarabirlik does the pack­ag­ing for olives that the asso­ciate agri­cul­tural coop­er­a­tives pro­duce, and cur­rently offers 332 prod­ucts to mar­ket with bar codes. Marmarabirlik recently got bar codes for the prod­ucts of olive oil soaps and olive flower cologne.

Thanks to R&D units, Marmarabirlik has been reduc­ing the salt in its prod­ucts, which has been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven to be harm­ful to health. In addi­tion to this and in line with mar­ket demand, Marmarabirlik broke the habit of col­lect­ing olives before they ripen and started to put sliced green and black olives to the mar­ket. So Marmarabirlik is gain­ing an advan­tage by pre­sent­ing alter­na­tive prod­ucts to the domes­tic and inter­na­tional mar­kets. It there­fore deserves to be one of the biggest olive pro­duc­ers of the world.

OOT: What chal­lenges cur­rently con­front the olive oil indus­try in in Turkey?

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HA: The main mar­ket for olive pro­duc­ers in Turkey is the EU, with Germany as the major mar­ket. It’s because the eth­nic pop­u­la­tion is high in these mar­kets. It’s the same for other coun­tries in the world, too.

At the same time, the domes­tic mar­ket con­trac­tion, increas­ing yields, and for all of the pro­duc­ers tar­get­ing the EU mar­ket because of its eas­i­ness, all make the mar­ket nar­row­ing with low profit rates and decreas­ing com­pet­i­tive capac­ity. Therefore our exporters should tar­get new mar­kets, real­ize the value of the mar­ket in gen­eral, not accord­ing to the eth­nic pop­u­la­tion, review their invest­ment and brand poli­cies in this regard and, most impor­tantly, pro­duce by con­sumers’ pref­er­ences. At the end, it’s all about giv­ing impor­tance to R&D activ­i­ties.

To be briefly stated, although there’s not a short­age in raw mate­ri­als, the main prob­lem is the pro­cess­ing tech­nique of raw mate­ri­als. I mean, we can say that either there’s a prob­lem with the level of qual­ity that export mar­kets are expect­ing, or with the pro­cess­ing tech­nique. In terms of taste qual­ity, eth­nic mar­kets might not have a prob­lem but the local con­sumers of export mar­kets and their con­sump­tion pat­terns can be dif­fer­ent.

OOT: What should be done in order to advance the indus­try entirely?

HA: First of all, we should be able to sell with the keen prices of chal­leng­ing mar­ket con­di­tions, and we will develop more prod­ucts. At the same time, we should be able to offer prod­ucts accord­ing to con­sumers’ tastes and pref­er­ences, that lead to con­sumers’ sat­is­fac­tion. Consumer sat­is­fac­tion will inevitably be reflected to pro­duc­ers. Therefore, we’re focused on con­sumer appre­ci­a­tion with qual­ity and hygienic pro­duc­tion. We’ve expanded our sales and mar­ket­ing net­work. In order to revive the deal­er­ship sys­tem, and make the shelves of chain stores carry more prod­ucts of Marmarabirlik, we have increased our efforts as a team. The sales fig­ures in the first half of 2010 show that we are on the right track. As we raise the bar every­day, our suc­cess gets big­ger with our pro­ducer-part­ners alliance.

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