Turkish food company is expanding into Europe

Turkish food company is expanding into Europe

Do not underestimate tomatoes.

A book called “The Empire of the Red Gold” (“L’Empire de l’or rouge” in French) was strongly recommended to holidaymakers in France a few months ago. It’s about tomatoes.

French journalist Jean-Baptiste Mallet pursued tomatoes for two-and-a-half-years, and traveled around the world from China to Italy, from California to Africa.

Mallet examines the “tomato industry” by starting with an old tomato processing factory in France bought by the Chinese army. He reveals the “unethical” businesses done by the Chinese and Italians in this $10-billion industry.

I still had “The Empire of the Red Gold in the back of my mind” when I was going to the 50th anniversary of Tat, a Turkish food company especially famous for its processed tomato products, with Tat’s director-general, Arzu Aslan Kesimer.

The adventure of Tat began when late entrepreneur Vehbi Koç took an interest in tomato production in Portugal and Spain. By sending three agricultural engineers to Portugal, Koç began researching about tomatoes years before the construction of the Tat factory in the district of Mustafakemalpaşa in the western province of Bursa.

Turkey holds fifth place in tomato production

We loved the tomatoes brought to Europe by the Spanish after the discovery of America. We hold fifth place in tomato production – following the United States, China, Italy and Spain respectively – and the sixth place in tomato export.

Founded with Koç’s vision, Tat has produced 2 billion cans of tomato paste and 500 million bottles of ketchup in its three factories. In 2016, 65,000 cans/jars of tomato products have hit the shelves under the brand of Tat.

In southern Europe, which has features similar to our lands, productivity is higher. While our farmers can produce seven tons of tomatoes, the U.S. and southern European countries produce 10 and 12 tons of tomatoes respectively, on the same amount of land. Therefore, Tat trains its 650 contract laborers, 50 of whom are women, with its own agriculture team.

Tat has also established a partnership with Japan’s long-established company Kagome. “The partnership with the Japanese is helping us develop the quality [of our products] thanks to the support of technology,” said its director-general.

Time for investment

Tat has a turnover of 380 million Turkish Liras from tomato products, of which 10 percent is constituted of exports. Japan is the biggest importer of Tat products. Exporting the most to the Middle East after Japan, Tat has also been growing in Europe in the last years.

“It is possible to find Tat products in 3,400 locations, including important grocery store chains in Europe,” said Kesimer.

“This year, Tat, which not only produces tomato products but also pasta and dairy products, will attain the turnover of 1 billion liras. We are open to all kinds of investments. Yet most importantly, we want to invest abroad in the tomato industry,” she gave the good news. 

“We are looking at Portugal, Spain, and Italy – in short, southern Europe – for investments, just as Koç did 50 years ago. We are closely following the U.S. and China as well, but we are currently focusing on Europe.

Let me return to “The Empire of the Red Gold” before concluding. In the book, Mallet explains how China uses child labor in its tomato fields and, after some unpleasant processes, the products are reportedly distributed by the Italian mafia.

Turkey’s tomato industry has never become entangled in such claims. I would say that it is time for Turkey to step up in Europe with Tat.