European Kettle: Truly delighted Turks

Altinkilic, head of the Altinmarka Group, shows off impressive cocoa operation

Bernie Pacyniak

When I had heard the news that Birol Altinkilic, head of the Altinmarka Group in Istanbul, Turkey, was going to be honored with the 2012 European Candy Kettle Award in late September, I was both delighted and intrigued.

Having had the opportunity to visit Istanbul in 2004 when Murat Ulker, chairman of the Ulker Group received the award, I was thrilled to revisit this dynamic and vibrant city of 15 million. My intrigue came from the fact that I wasn’t familiar with neither Altinkilic nor the Altinmarka Group.

A preliminary search of the company revealed that it was involved in cocoa and chocolate processing and that one of its subsidiaries, Detay, produced finished chocolate products. It was only upon visiting the Altinmarka Group’s facilities — first alone and then in conjunction with members of the European Candy Kettle Club — that I recognized my preliminary research revealed only the top of the minaret.

Founded in 1992, the Altimarka Group was Birol Altinkilic’s response to a changing economic landscape in Turkey, a process that had begun in the 1980s when  the government  began implementing changes to liberalize a top-down, state-driven economy. Those changes — and their benefits — continued well into the 1990s.

Having worked in his father’s cocoa bean trading business, Altinkilic immediately grasped the repercussions of this Turkish economic revitalization and saw a niche for a cocoa supplier that catered to small and midsized, family-run companies.  In 1994, the company began processing its first cocoa beans from Ghana and the Ivory Coast and hasn’t looked back since.

Through dedication and discipline, Altinkilic built a fledging business into a $600-million, vertically integrated cocoa-centric operation that includes industrial chocolate products, finished chocolate items, retail coffeehouses serving confections, ice cream, coffee and pastries, a coffee roasting operation, an ice cream manufacturing facility, a pastry/bakery operation and a construction company (The construction company handles only internal projects).

During this period — a mere 20 years mind you — Altinkilic has integrated high quality standards with efficient processing techniques, relying on technology and automation as the means to deliver both. The company has not only benefitted from Turkey’s evolution as an economic powerhouse, but it’s capitalized on Altinkilic’s talent to establish initial relationships with family companies and grow in conjunction with their success.

Today, the company exports to more than 40 countries. Its subsidiary, Detay, run by his beautiful daughter Dilara Altinkilic, co-manufactures for numerous multinationals, including Mondelez International (formerly Kraft), Nestle, Ulker and ETI.  Detay also produces private-label items for scores of retailers. A separate subsidiary, run by Altinkilic’s wife, operates 90 coffeehouses and looks to expand those to 200 by 2015.  

A tour of the manufacturing facilities reinforces Altinkilic’s philosophy of delivering quality and affordability through technology and automation. It also underscores Altinkilic’ s recognition as being this year’s European Candy Kettle Club recipient. (Look to Candy Industry’s November issue for a complete profile on Birol Altinkilic and the Altinmarka Group.)

Being honored as this year’s European Candy Kettle Club award winner is a great source of pride for not only Altinkilic, but for his family and all the company’s employees. For example, on the day the European Candy Kettle Club and its guests arrived at the company’s cocoa and chocolate processing facilities, we were directed to an outdoor reception area that was created just for us, complete with couches, jazz music, refreshments and a display of traditional Turkish breadmaking. This staging area, basked in sunlight and an azure sky, signaled the onslaught of graciousness and hospitality that would continue during the next several days.

As the group boarded the buses to head for our luncheon destination, employees at various points throughout the manufacturing complex waved to us. It was a clear sign of how much Altinkilic, his family and employees appreciated the honor.

And yet, despite the obvious time, effort and cost given to organizing the event for the European Candy Kettle Club members as well as the American Candy Kettle Committee guests (yours truly and Bill and Cindy Copeland from aspecialtybox.com), Altinkilic remained approachable, always anxious to make his visitors comfortable.

In other words, success hasn’t changed Altinkilic’s basic operating principals; he continues to do business based on meeting needs through personal relationships that are built on trust. Given the family foundations that many confectionery companies have, I don’t find this surprising. It is a global connection we have in the confectionery industry.    

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