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Real Pioneers: Whole Food Shops in Turkey

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

“Sometimes we get 30 customers in our shop, sometimes 110. But if we had a better location, it is certain more would come,” explains Gülten Sen (pronounced Shen), the co-owner of the whole food shop Ambar in Istanbul. The shop is only about 20 paces from the pedestrian area in Istanbul’s busy town centre (Beyoglu), and it is mainly regulars who shop in the 20 m² store.


Picture: Gülten Sen giving advice to a customer

A basket of rosy apples entices the customer in front of the shop; a green climbing plant and the wooden sign with the name of the shop (picture) are a clear indication of ‘organic’. The interior, too, with its wooden shelves and little ceiling lights, looks exactly the same as in small traditional whole food shops. Friendly service by Gülten Sen and her colleague awaits the customers, whose purchases are often quite small: a packet of raisins, a loaf of bread or a packet of tea. Apart from a few soya products like soya drinks, just about everything originates in Turkey. However, only around a third of products are organic.


“We stock 220 organic products and 550 conventional products. At the moment, we can’t get more organic goods. We are wondering whether we should import things ourselves, because we deliver to hotels and other whole food shops as well.” Gülten Sen and her husband Seref also provide an online home delivery service. Mrs Sen is pleased with the results: “Every week we supply 25-30 households who have placed an order with us.” They would be even more pleased if they could get another shop up and running, but at the moment they do not have adequate finance. Mr and Mrs Sen opened their shop in October 2001, and they have seen the turnover increase continuously. It has to be added, however, that Gülten Sen has been in the business for 22 years, since she used to work in the health food shop run by her parents.


It is still difficult to get supplies of fresh organic food. “In the spring, when there is sheep and goats milk, we sell cheese. We don’t have anyone to supply vegetables, and the organic bread we have simply does not taste so good, and we have to sell traditional as well,” Mrs Sen explains.


“Price is a real problem, because only very small quantities of products are sold.” Tarkan Apari (picture), who changed from dentistry to whole food a year ago, hopes the price difference between organic goods and conventional (currently 200 %) will soon decrease. He has been a vegetarian for a few years now and, since he found it difficult to buy organic products, he opened his own 16 m2 shop. However, it is located well off the beaten track in the Beyoglu district. He has joined the Ecolife group as a franchisee. Ecolife that was founded in December 2001 by Nicola Marincic and Ozdem Demirci, runs its own two shops, three franchise shops and two stalls.


Like Gülten Sen, Mr Apari states that about 80 % of his 500 articles originate in Turkey, and various kinds of soya milk and gluten free products are imported. Around 20 % of his stock is organic food and his aim is to increase the proportion of organics in the next few years.


Mr Apari’s favourite products are the olive oils that he himself tastes before they are included in his stock. “There are, of course, lots of different olive oils in Turkey,” he laughs. “I look for the very best to sell. And the olive oils are not only healthy and tasty but also supplied in attractive bottles containing herbs or peperoni (picture). The former dentist does sound somewhat resigned, however, when with only 15 customers a day he declares: “Turkey will take a few more years to get to know more about whole food and an ecological lifestyle.”


In the meantime, a group of people is preparing to establish an organic supermarket chain called Yesil Yasam (Green Life). The first shops will be located in Istanbul, after which they will be rolled out over the whole country. At the moment, they are still looking for partners abroad, according to Inken Kuhn, who is one of the people involved in the project.


Addresses of organic-food shops:



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