New faces in the food industry

New faces in the food industry

According to data provided by the Federation of Food and Drink Industry Associations of Turkey (TGDF), the Turkish food industry has a total annual production worth $200 billion. The sector’s exports are worth $10.5 billion, and its imports $5 billion, while it provides employment for one million people. All aspects of the food industry saw a 20 percent increase in 2011. Prominent companies in the sector, such as Ülker and Pınar, are shining in the Gulf countries as a Turkish brand. We are also seeing new businesses joining the sector every day.

I have also noticed with pleasure that several strong women are among the newcomers in Turkey’s food industry. One is Funda Özer Baltalı, the founder of Baltalı Gıda Hayvancılık Sanayi Company, with whom I had the opportunity to have a long conversation the other day.

Baltalı made a career move from the leather sector to the food industry. She owns a goat farm in Turkey’s first “cittaslow,” or “slow city,” Seferihisar near İzmir. Baltalı has invested nearly $10 million in her farm in the last four years, and produces extremely delicious goat cheese bearing her last name. She learned the intricacies of cheese-making in Holland while working on a farm for six months. With the support of Dutch experts, she brought frozen goat sperm from Canada to breed local Turkish goats, creating her own breed of goat. Funda Özer Baltalı is making great strides in the field of animal husbandry, in which there were previously no women. She is also encouraging women in Seferihisar who own small plots of land to breed goats.

Nazlıgül Ünal and Aslıhan Yıldırım came to the food industry from careers in communications consulting, and have created an olive oil brand called XI.XI Sonsuzluk (XI.XI Infinity). The distinguishing feature of the olive oil they produce is that it is made with the stone press method, rarely used in the world today. The two sisters, like Funda Baltalı, have visited dozens of olive oil factories in Spain, Italy and even Tunisia.

“Only in the Spanish city of Valencia and in one village in Greece we were able to come across olive oil made with a stone press,” Nazlıgül Ünal said. I forgot to mention that the biggest reason Ünal and Yıldırım transferred to the food sector is that their family owns olive groves in the village of Kumkaya near the Marmara town of Mudanya, as well as a stone press rendering plant dating back to the 1930s. The plant is from the 1930s but the stones that press the olives are exactly 300 years old. After deciding to produce olive oil, the two sisters renovated the old plant with help from architects, and then went hunting for experts who knew the stone press method.

It should not go unmentioned that Turkey faces this dilemma: Not only in the food industry, but in many other sectors in Turkey, masters with the knowledge to practice at a level of excellence using old traditional production methods fall off the face of earth without having the opportunity to teach their trade to young people. Nazlıgül Ünal and Aslıhan Yıldırım have told me that like masters of stone press olive-oil production, the artisans who produce the sacks the olives are placed in for oil extraction after pressing in the stone mill are also disappearing one by one. Therefore the contribution the two sisters’ contribution to the food industry is huge. They have created a brand with great passion, determination and precision by putting into practice a production system that was almost extinct, and intend to promote their product in international markets.