KNOW YOUR FOOD

Turkey 2020 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

As one of Turkey's biggest and oldest organic food companies, Işık Tarım's goal is to promote adoption of organic farming and export healthy products to more markets.

Mehmet Ali Işık
BIOGRAPHY

Mehmet Ali Işık is the Chairman of Işık Tarım. Belonging to a family of artisans, Işık was involved in trade throughout his life. He graduated from Dokuz Eylül University's food technology department and started his dried fruits business in 1974. He is also vice chairman of the management board of Aegean Dried Fruit Exporters' Associations and president and founder of Happy Hazelnut Project and Happy Village Project.

When Işık Tarım began organic farming practices in the 90s, what was the competitive landscape like?
At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, several international companies came to Turkey and started to produce organic products, primarily seedless grapes. They went through contracted manufacturers. We never had contact with these companies. Instead, we decided to start our own organic farming because our background and land were suitable for it. The 90s were a strategically important milestone for us. We are the first Turkish company to independently begin organic farming. We expanded to different areas and started to produce organic figs and apricots. Today, we produce more than 30 different products.

How did you develop an international network of buyers and business partners?
We expanded internationally by participating in international exhibitions. We first started exporting to Germany and at present, we export to 40 countries. Our second strategic move was to invest in production geared toward the intermediate food industry. That means companies that produce chocolate, biscuits, and baby food. Entering this sphere was not particularly difficult for us; since we directly buy from the farmers, we were able to supply the products easily.

You invested in an individually quick frozen (IQF) facility in 2013 and a hazelnut facility in 2015. Why did you invest in these facilities?
The dried fruits segment makes up 74% of our revenue stream. After our success in the organic dried fruit segment, our customers began demanding IQF products and hazelnuts. In the early 1990s, we had already started producing these products through our contractors but over time, this resulted in quality problems. To overcome this issue, we rented some facilities to produce frozen fruits. By 2013, we decided to invest in our own facilities. The same story goes for hazelnut. We started to process hazelnuts in 1995. Eventually, we opened our hazelnut processing facility and became an exporter.

Işık Tarım's two main revenue streams are organic products for consumers and intermediate food products for businesses. Which segment are you working on growing the most?
In the beginning, our intermediate food products segment was bigger than our retail segment. However, over the years, the demand for B2C products has grown larger and larger, and today, 60% of our revenue consists of intermediate products and the remaining 40% comes from retail products. Our primary goal within the B2C segment is to develop our 'Happy Village' brand. We aim to supply healthy products to our consumers.

Which regions and specific countries are most important for your export strategy?
98% of our sales materialize through exports. Canada, the US, Germany, France, and Switzerland are our main markets. We also export to Russia and Eastern Europe. In the east, we export to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. Organic products are usually consumed by health-conscious customers. Although there is a perception that organic foods are mostly purchased by wealthy consumers, we have realized that the middle class in highly developed economies is more inclined to buy organic foods.

What are Işık Tarım's primary objectives over the next 12 months?
We have two primary objectives. First, we want to protect lands both in Turkey and the region. Successfully initiating investments in organic farming for the past 35 years is the result of this philosophy. We strive toward expanding lands where organic farming is done. We have 12,000ha of organic farming land in Turkey and 20,000ha of land in Turkish-speaking countries in Central Asia. We plan to increase this over the next 12 months. Our second objective is to serve healthy products to our consumers. To do that, we try to introduce dried fruits outside our existing markets, such as East Asian countries, Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, and the Middle East.