Bulgur, one of the ancient foods of Mesopotamia, is trying to break its shell. In recent years, use of bulgur has increased across the world and country-wide thanks to the efforts of the companies, which are carrying on business in the sector. Faysal Sun, İpek Bulgur’s Vice Chairperson of the Management Board, said: “The consumption of bulgur is increasing as its benefits are understood. Middle East Countries are our vital markets.”
Faysal SUN - İpek Bulgur
Established in Mardin, İpek Bulgur is the top bulgur producer and exporter in Turkey with 70 thousand tons of annual production. Aiming to introduce the special bulgur grown in Mardin to the World, İpek Bulgur increased its annual export to 40 thousand tons and continues to search for new markets. Middle East countries such as Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have the biggest share in the export output of İpek Bulgur, which sells its products to 20 countries. Also, European countries, particularly Germany, Japan and Far East countries are among company’s markets. İpek Bulgur’s factory in Mardin takes pride in being the biggest bulgur production facility in the world. The biggest bulgur producer and exporter of Turkey with a daily production capacity of 500 tons, has become Turkey’s bulgur giant with 70 thousand ton annual production. İpek Bulgur, a Mardin brand with a history of a quarter-century, supplies its entire production base from special wheat, which is raised in Mesopotamia soils of Mardin Plain.
Faysal Sun, Vice Chairman of İpek Bulgur’s Management Board, said that they attach importance to developing new products for expending their share in the domestic market while searching for new markets abroad. Sun also stated that, as the biggest bulgur producer in the world, they produce 1 million tons of bulgur annually, 25% of which is produced in Mardin, and 250 thousand tons of this total output is exported. We made an interview with Faysal Sun, İpek Bulgur’s Vice Chairman of the Executive Board and Chairman of Mardin Bulgur Manufacturer’s Association, whom we had the chance to meet during the 5th Sirha Fair, organized in Istanbul, at a very warm environment.
Mr. Sun, what distinguishes Mardin bulgur from other bulgur varieties? What makes you special?
Mardin is a part of Mesopotamia, which has the most fertile soil in the world. Land of Mesopotamia is also known as the holy land. The abundance of sunlight affects the product quality significantly. Hardness degree, protein and brightness level are important factors for durum and bulgur wheat. Wheat takes all of these qualities from the sun and the soil. These two qualities combine to create the most magnificent wheat in the world. We produce the best bulgur from the most magnificent wheat in the world, at the biggest bulgur factory in Turkey and the world, with 500 tons production capacity.
You are making production in a problematic area in Turkey due to reasons stemming from the developments in the neighbouring countries. How does this affect your exportation process? Can you give us information about your export figures?
As a company, we export 60% of what we produce. This approximately corresponds to 40 thousand tons. We are exporting our products to about 20 countries, particularly Middle East Countries. Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, European countries, Japan and Middle countries are some of them. Middle East market is our vital point. However, the civil war and the environment of internal conflict motivated us to look for the new markets. As you may know, the terror is a permanent problem in the region. For this reason, we are having difficulty in confronting such problems. That’s why our search for new markets continues. We are aiming to have access to more stable and secure markets. Companies established in Mardin are producing 25 per cent of total bulgur output in Turkey, and covers 35 per cent of bulgur export from Turkey.
WE ARE AIMING TO EXPAND OUR MARKET SHARE IN EUROPE BY 150%
Do you have any projects for Europe? How is sector’s export activities to Europe?
We take part in the market for sure, and we are taking firm actions to increase our presence. We established a distributorship in Europe. We are aiming to increase our share in this market. Our export volume to Europe is 2 thousand tons. However, our aim is to increase it to 5 thousand tons with a 150 per cent increase by 2018. Currently, Turkey’s bulgur export to Europe is between 20-25 thousand tons. As you know, European Union has 10 thousand ton-quota for bulgur. We can export products up to 10 thousand ton tax-free. The amounts exceeding 10 thousand tons are subject to tax.
How are expats and immigrants affecting bulgur?
In recent years, a great number of people from different countries emigrated to Europe due to war and problems in the Middle East. People, who emigrate also take their consumption habits to these countries. Those who go there are potential bulgur consumers. In addition to this, in recent years, vegan culture has developed in Europe considerably. Bulgur started to be highly consumed in significant amounts, in salads, which European people call ‘tebbule’. It is also consumed with meat more. We, too, have this habit. Like serving kebab and döner with bulgur pilaf. Cultural interaction also influences this process. Tourists coming from Europe to Turkey eat the bulgur served at the hotels, and a consumption habit develops for this food. After going back to their countries, they look for the same taste.
IT WAS THE FOOD OF POOR PEOPLE, NOW IT IS A PART OF HIGH SOCIETY
Who eats bulgur? Did healthy nutrition news commonly portrayed in the media influence consumption patterns?
For years, bulgur had been considered as the food of poor people. But this has changed now. It has become the food of high society after its valuable benefits on health are discovered. Now, people who take care of themselves and their health started to consume bulgur.
Do you organize any promotion campaigns to increase bulgur consumption in domestic and foreign markets?
As Mardin bulgur, we carried out a study within the scope of URGE project. We conducted this study with Ministry of Economy. We opened stands in 5 countries in order to promote Mardin bulgur. We conducted promotion activities in the United States, Paris, Casablanca and Jordan, and the feedbacks are quite satisfying. As İpek Bulgur, we lastly attended to the fair organized in Germany. We prepared bulgur dessert there.
WE WILL FEED CHILDREN WITH BULGUR
Up to today, they introduced bulgur like a simple food. In fact, there are 50 kinds of food prepared with bulgur. Publishing a cookbook, which includes dishes made with bulgur, is one of our objectives. We want to show the importance of bulgur to chefs and housewives distributing this book to them.
Does bulgur sector have any attempts to determine new markets by acting in a collaborative manner?
Unfortunately, bulgur sector is not a well-organized sector. Our goal is to gather bulgur sector under a single roof. We have only two associations; one is in Gaziantep, the other is in Mardin. There are about 30 bulgur factories in Gaziantep. There are 15 bulgur factories in Mardin, and 98 bulgur factories across Turkey. But they are not organized. For instance, there are 30 pasta companies in Turkey, but they are very well organized and have an influence in the food sector. We are aiming to achieve collaboration and bringing stakeholders of the sector under the same roof.
Which countries consume bulgur most? Are there significant differences between regions?
While consumption of bulgur per capita is 27 kilos in the South Eastern Anatolia Region, this figure decreases down to 8 kilos in Aegean Region and Thrace. In Eastern and South Eastern Anatolia Region, there are people who still eat bulgur pilaf with bread. In some regions of Turkey, there are still areas, where people do not know how to cook bulgur. We did not promote bulgur in Turkey well enough. As a sector, we need to deal with promotion issue in Turkey.
Do you have any projects for the new generation, especially the children? What will you do to motivate this target market to eat bulgur?
We need to popularize bulgur among the new generation, the children. They were not raised with it, and unfortunately they do not know about it, we wish to convey this culture. For this purpose, we launched 3 different products, which we developed for children. These are products, which are of high nutritional value, and easy to cook. They will be on the shelves at the beginning of 2018. Currently, there are 7 different products in our product range, but we want to develop products with high added value. We are conducting R&D studies for the enriched form of bulgur. We will present it in a ready-to-eat format including dried tomato, pepper, sauce and all the other ingredients. Consumption habits of the society have changed; foods are prepared with a rapidness that suits our age. We aim to create the variety we see in pasta, for bulgur.
OUR TARGET IS RICE EATING CONSUMERS What are your target markets?
Our search for new markets continue. We opened stands at the fair organized in Miami, United States, and participants welcomed us very warmly. We consider all markets, where rice is consumed widely, as our potential target audience. Because bulgur is the most healthy alternative to bulgur. Asian countries are target markets for us. We did not make any export attempts for China, but it does not mean that we will not start such projects. In recent years, researches, which emphasize the importance of bulgur for health, have been published. Consumption of bulgur increased as its benefits started to be discovered. Diabetic people turned towards bulgur as they cannot consume rice. Because bulgur has no danger for these people. Obesity also has become a serious problem for the society in recent years. Colon cancer cases resulting from nutrition increased. This motivated people to turn towards bulgur. It is both rich in protein and fiber, and an easy to cook and filling. It also contains no additives, it consists only of water and wheat.