Godiva was one step, Ülker has become an important global company in the world

Mehmet Tütüncü has been working at Ülker for 12 years. He is the current Chairman of Ülker’s Foods and Beverages Group...

The 200 brand names of Yıldız Holding’s subsidiary, Ülker, manufacture more than 800 different products.  Last year revenues were in the region of 7.5 billion dollars. These companies export their products to 110 countries, including Cuba and Afghanistan.  Ülker’s 2007 acquisition of the chocolate-producing giant, Godiva, drew world attention.  Noting that both Godiva and Ülker are companies well-known world-wide, Chairman of Ülker’s Foods and Beverages Group, Mehmet Tütüncü has this to say: “Ülker was exporting products to foreign countries 10 years ago but no one really looked seriously at our business activities. Ülker’s acquisition of Godiva has earned us global prestige.”

Mehmet Tütüncü has been working at Ülker for 12 years. He is the current Chairman of Ülker’s Foods and Beverages Group. The companies of the group produce Cola Turka, varieties of milk, oils, functional foods, breakfast products and various beverages. The structure of the Ülker Company may seem unusual and even confusing at first glance. Its parent company is Yıldız Holding. The holding has 4 separate groups of companies.  One of these is the Foods and Beverages Group, chaired by Mehmet Tütüncü. Another group is the biscuits and chocolate group, headed by Ali Ülker. These companies manufacture the Ülker brand that we know so well. The remaining groups’ business activities include packaging, informatics, R&D, business development and foreign investments.

At the end of 2007, Ülker purchased the world’s most famous brand name in chocolate, Godiva. While the business world was asking questions about the acquisition, Ülker continued to acquire domestic businesses. Oba Çay and Doğa were added to Ülker’s, or rather Yıldız Holding’s list of subsidiary companies. Yıldız Holding also purchased 350% of the share of Uno Bread. We spoke with the man who is responsible for these last two companies, foods and Beverages Chairman Mehmet Tütüncü, who loves what he does.  This is a businessman who continually strives to improve himself.  He is always ready to learn new things…

* Ülker is growing rapidly. New brand names are being introduced.  On the other hand, new brand names are also being purchased. Is there some type of production strategy for every food that comes into our homes?

We place a great deal of importance on fulfilling our customers’ wishes. We manufacture a wide variety of products ranging from beverages to special nutritional foods for children. The way we do business is just as important to us as developing new products. Innovation does not stop with the product. The innovative way in which we operate our business is also very important. Ülker has always had principles in this respect. In Turkey, Ülker was the first company to introduce the principle of a universal price.

* Ülker is a family business. In Turkey, leading family businesses have had a difficult time when it comes to incorporating.  Ülker has grown rapidly in recent years. You have been working professionally at Ülker for 12 years and now you have reached a position in the upper management of the company. That’s a long way from being family-based…

Seeing Ülker as merely a family-run operation would be delusional. It is family-based but each of them work as professionals.  There are good relationships among the professionals.  Ülker is a visionary company, and that is its most significant aspect. I can illustrate the difference with this example:  We produced an electronic payment card – a family card. We are constantly looking for ways to take care of every individual who works in this system with us.

* How many countries buy your exports?

110.  A friend of mine recently sent me a photograph from Senegal.  He had found our biscuits being sold in an out-of-the-way grocery store. We are everywhere, from Afghanistan to Cuba.

Functional foods are being developed

*In recent years, Ülker has been concentrating more and more on manufacturing functional foods. You are the head of this department. People are living longer these days. They are more aware of what they eat and they want to feel differently about themselves. Almost everyone is on the lookout for special personalized products. Which of these products will stand out in the future?

It depends on different demands. People want different foods that have special characteristics. As you said earlier, consumers prefer specialized products. The types of products will depend on what is demanded. Developments in science and technology are now emphasizing long life, nutrition and health and these issues are being perceived as inseparable from each other. People want to get health benefits from the food they eat. In developed countries the average person’s life span is continuing to increase. These people want to live a healthy old age.  One thing we are careful about is making sure that the functional foods we produce have the elements of natural nutrition.  You can get the benefits of a functional food while you are eating your yogurt. Functional foods have to be perceived as a part of your daily diet.  One such product is Kalbim Benecol.

*In Turkey, people are very concerned about the safety of products. They have little knowledge about the contents of foods, but the situation is improving. Of these products, which is most popular?

The health of the heart and circulatory system is extremely important. Kalbim Benecol addresses this concern. The market in Turkey is in the region of 125 million dollars.  Trust is important.  The health benefits of the products we manufacture are never be the subject of doubt. We were the first to introduce low-cholesterol margarine. Later, Benecol yogurt and milk were added to the list. Before introducing Kalbim Benecol, we negotiated a partnership with the famous Raisio firm, based in Finland. These are new products in Turkey. Representative of the Ministry take special care to prevent the misuse of these products. Knowledge about foods that are functional is increasing. In order for this to happen, we had to explain the benefits to the consumer. At the moment there are a few questions about this topic. The necessary studies are being done and we are confident that these questions will be resolved.

We used to sell fruit and vegetables on the street

*  What was your first job?

My father was a military officer so my childhood was spent moving around to different posts. During my middle school years, a friend and I practiced judo. I used to sell stuff at the Pazar with my judo friend. We had a table at the local street market.  Later on, we also sold thyme that we gathered from the mountains. I graduated from Ankara Gazi High School.  Before that we lived in many different places. After I graduated from university, I received a scholarship from the Italian Government to study in the field of energy. I studied nuclear energy. Afterwards, I started to work in the cigarette sector.  I have been with Ülker for 12 years.  I have worked ever since I finished high school.  My first professional job was with the Ministry of Industry. After that I entered the private sector.

Murat Bey is teasing me

* Do you dream about retirement?

“Do a job you love to do and spend your life in retirement” is a saying with us. I really believe it is true.  Of course we do have to make way for the younger generation. It’s important to be constantly productive. Retirement is more a time that we set aside for our own activities.  I would like to have more time to read. I love to watch movies.  I am constantly buying DVD’s.  Even Murat Ülker teases me about that.  He says, “By the time you find an opportunity to watch all those films, the technology will have changed.”


Ülker Foods and beverages Chairman, Mehmet Tütüncü, says he is an inquisitive man. “I am curious about learning things. Sometimes I get up at 5 in the morning to work.  Learning keeps you in tune with your existence.  I have to keep on learning so I will have things to talk about my whole life,” he says.

Let’s not forget the corner grocer

*Ülker has a wonderful distribution system. Is that the secret of its success?

Ülker has never and will never forget the corner grocer. Corner grocers are issued a Family Card tht gives them access to certain commercial advantages. Ülker has been exporting for years, improving technology, meeting consumer demands, and introducing new products. First Ülker produced biscuits, then chocolate and later on it branched into other kinds of foods. Our company is a rapidly growing fast-moving consumer goods organization.

Every brand has to come as a shock

*Godiva’s acquisition caused a lot of excitement. How was the reaction outside of the country reflected here?

Ülker had been exporting products to foreign markets for many years; the company’s name was known, but every brand name needs to shock people to get their attention. This acquisition gained a lot of prestige for Ülker.  Before the purchase, people would look at our business cards and say, “Aaaa, Ülker?”  The brand needed to give them a shock.  If you ask me, Godiva came as quite a shock to them.


It’s not easy to leave your friends

* Leaving old friends that you have worked with is never pleasant, always difficult.  Apart from those times, there have been other difficulties, but this is normal.  Dealing with difficulties makes you stronger.

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