Turkey and ‘pan de sal’
IZMIR—One of the least expected things I would do in this city on Turkey’s Aegean coast, the third largest in the country, was to meet a young man with an easy charm and manner.
Yuksel Tezcan is a fourth-generation member of the family that owns Tezcan Flour Mills, one of the top 10 in Turkey among 1,200 such manufacturers.
Just 25, Tezcan is an industrial engineer with a graduate degree from King’s College in London, accounting for his familiarity with English. The firm, he says, was founded by his great-grandfather. His father, Haluk, currently serves as CEO. Although an SOO (son of owner), Yuksel has put in more than the requisite time and effort into the family firm. “I started in the business when I was 12 years old,” he says, “and there were many times when I just wanted to cry out of frustration.”
Despite the frustrations, the young Tezcan says he eventually bought into his father’s, or rather his family’s, dream. Currently, a large part of his responsibilities is growing the company’s export market. While Turkish flour firms export their products to 120 countries around the world,
Tezcan Flour Mills deals with buyers in about 40 countries, their biggest market being Brazil, Haiti, and countries in Africa. The Philippines, he says, became a customer in 2008, and he himself has visited the country around six times.
In fact, Tezcan is familiar with our pan de sal, the Filipino breakfast staple. Together with other members of the Turkish Flour, Yeast and Ingredients Promotions Group, Tezcan is working with the Fil-Chinese Bakers’ Association, bringing a professor from Turkey to the Philippines who visited large and small neighborhood bakeries to see how local bread-making techniques and production could be made more efficient.
* * *
IN turn, the Turkish group plans to bring at least three Filipino bakers to Turkey to learn from the bread industry here, where Turks are among the biggest bread consumers in the world, with per capita consumption of flour reaching 150 kilos a year.
The association has also donated bakery equipment to 10 Filipino bakeries, with Tezcan saying he is particularly interested in working to improve the taste and content of the pan de sal. Turkey has its own approximate version, he says, which they call “pogocha.”
“Tweaking” the contents of their flour products, some of which are marketed locally under the brand “Egem,” a play on the word “Aegean” since Izmir lies on the banks of the Aegean Sea which has given the name to the region, is currently also one of Tezcan’s “obsessions.”
Part of the firm’s R&D work, he explains, is to develop “healthier” flour, with increased fiber, as well as a “gluten-free” variant, and a “diet” flour with a low glycemic index. As it is, says Tezcan, aware of the irony, “Turkish people eat too much bread.” But instead of trying to interfere with this food preference (akin to asking Filipinos to stop eating rice), Tezcan says they are instead trying to create healthier flour products as well as convincing families to cut down on wastage.
Their concern is real. Currently, says Turgay Unlu, president of the Turkish Flour association, bread wastage in Turkey amounts to some $350-$400 million a year, down from two years ago when the annual wastage totaled $750 million. The wastage is equivalent to about 6 million loaves of bread thrown away each year, certainly a matter of some concern.
* * *
TEZCAN and other officials of the Turkish Flour Group are currently negotiating with Filipino officials to lower the provisional tariff imposed on 15 Turkish flour exporters (the Tezcan Flour Mills is one of the firms that don’t pay tariff).
Tezcan describes the Filipino flour industry as an “oligopoly” since local manufacture is being carried out by only 12 firms. Unlu himself bristles at how Turkish flour was “defamed” as part of a campaign to protect Philippine flour millers, with a local milling group warning about “low quality” flour coming from Turkey. But instead of taking offense, says Unlu, the charges only “encouraged us to do even better.”
Recently, representatives of the Philippine Tariff Commission visited Turkey as part of the investigation into whether higher tariff or charges on Turkish flour are still justified.
“We are hoping the commission will make the right decision in the end,” declares Unlu. “And we hope they decide in the best interest of Filipinos, taking into consideration the high quality and comparative prices of Turkish flour.”
* * *
FOR NOW, the Philippines enjoys an edge over Turkey in our balance of trade. Philippine exports to Turkey currently stands at some $180 million a year, comprised mainly of electronics and IT processes, gold and pearls, and (surprise!) around $50 million worth of yachts—yes, yachts.
In contrast, in 2012, Turkish exports totaled some $144 million, and the amount has been decreasing year by year. About half of Turkish exports to the country consist of flour, says Unlu, and he believes “the Turkish government will respond to any ban or embargo (on Turkish flour), and could hurt relations between our two countries.”
As I write this, former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be inaugurated as Turkey’s president, even as he strives to amend the constitution to widen the powers of the office of the president, which is still largely ceremonial.
If he does retain or expand power, Erdogan will be facing huge challenges, with Turkey deemed among the “fragile five” of the world’s economies by the investor bank Morgan Stanley.
Certainly, the flour millers have their work cut out for them: establishing a foothold in more countries abroad and “selling” the image of Turkish flour.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.