godiva acquired, ulker buys godiva

Godiva Acquisition Contributes to Shift in Turkish Consumer Culture

November 29, 2008 11:59 AM
by Isabel Cowles
The acquisition of Godiva by a Turkish company a year ago illustrates what some see as an ongoing trend in Turkish society.

Godiva to Help Turkish Company Attract “Elite” Consumers

A year ago, Campbell Soup Company sold the luxury chocolate brand Godiva to the Ulker Group, a Turkish food manufacturer.

Campbell Soup sold Godiva for approximately $850 million after attracting other interested buyers, including Starbucks, Hershey’s, William Wrigley Jr. and several private equity firms, according to The New York Times.

In buying Godiva, Ulker, a division of Yildiz Holding of Turkey, added to its cookie, chocolate, beverage and dairy holdings. The deal was intended to help Ulker attract “’elite’ buyers and expand in global markets,” Turkey-Now reported in 2007.

According to a Yahoo Finance profile of the company, Godiva manufactures premium chocolate confections that are available globally at 450 of its boutique shops, in department and specialty stores, and from the company’s Web site. 

Seyfettin Gursel, an economist and columnist for Turkish business daily Referans, told the Turkish Daily News last winter, “In spite of global fluctuations, Ulker made a valiant decision by reinforcing its brand with an international name.” Gursel also noted that high oil prices have “created a new class in the Middle East," which may be attracted to Ulker’s brand of luxury chocolate.

The acquisition took place just before the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid Ul Adha) during which Muslims attend prayer services and celebrate their commitment to Allah. Following special services, observers gather for festive meals to share unique treats and desserts.

Background: “Candy Company of the Year in Europe”

The Ulker Group is recognized as the most successful division of Yildiz Holding, and was named the "Candy Company of the Year in Europe" by the European Candy Kettle Club in 2004. The acquisition of Godiva was intended to solidify Ulker as the leading chocolate manufacturer in Turkey. According to the company’s corporate relations director general, Zuhal Seker Tucker, Ulker held a market share of 60 percent before buying Godiva.

Opinion & Analysis: Shift in Turkish consumer culture, political controversy

Some argue that Ulker has contributed significantly to a shift in Turkey’s consumer culture. In 2003, just after the American invasion of Iraq, the company introduced Cola Turka to Turkish markets through a marketing strategy termed “positive nationalism.”

Derya Özkan and Robert J. Foster of the Advertising & Society Review examined the strategy with an eye on how food branding has influenced Turkish consumer culture. According to the authors, the consumption of Cola Turka illustrates a transformation in Turkish society and “reflects a shift in the dominant nationalist ideology in Turkey away from an ideal of state developmentalism and toward an ideal of market-driven economic growth.”

But others point to Ulker's image within Turkey as another reason for its domination of the Turkish food market. Ulker has a longstanding reputation for connections with Islamist politics, an issue that, along with ultranationalism, has been at the forefront of Turkish politics.

In October, a group including politicians, former military leaders and journalists accused of trying to overthrow the Turkish government came under trial in court in what has come to be known as the Ergenekon case. Named for the legendary home of the Turkish people, the group, accused of ultranationalism, has been being behind high-profile murders and bombings and plotting to overthrow the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), the government's majority political faction, which itself came under trial by Turkey's Constitutional Court for allegedly contravening secularism.

The AKP has been heralded in some Turkish circles and by many Western governments for economic liberalization. But domestically, intermittent bans on alcohol, a clampdown on pork production, a failed attempt to illegalize adultery and a parliamentary move to end the ban on the headscarf—which was eventually overturned by the Constitutional Court—were cited by chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as evidence the AKP, which some in the Turkish press have linked financially to Ulker, has an ulterior Islamist agenda.

"The government has targeted beer manufacturer Efes and the local Coca-Cola bottler, while promoting products manufactured by companies deemed Islamist," writes Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in National Review. "Turkish Airlines once served Coca-Cola on its flights. According to flight attendants, at the request of the government, it increasingly substitutes Cola Turka, a brand owned by Ulker, a confectionary company long associated with Islamist causes," he continues.

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