To the delight of organic food lovers in Hong Kong, Everything Organic, with its headquarters in Tai Po, was recently launched by local Susanna Chan, focusing on the Asia-Pacific distribution of organic products by CityFarm, Turkey’s largest and most established organic food brand and retailer. Turkey is the world’s seventh-largest agricultural producer, with a long history of organic farming. Working hand and hand with Turkish farmers, CityFarm’s product range is vast and varied, from dried fruits and nuts, to pasta, to oils, sauces and vinegars. Even better, unlike many organic products that suffer from a huge markup, CityFarm offers very affordable pricing.
So far, CityFarm has been focusing on its national market. With its new marketing and sales strategy concentrating on export markets, the company is now targeting potential international distributors and will soon be launching its export brand, which will have a more international appeal with a fresher look and feel.
CityFarm head Ayhan Sümerli with Susanna Chan, the owner of Everything Organic in HK
We recently caught up with Ayhan Sümerli, who heads up CityFarm in Turkey, to find out more about this pioneering Turkish company and its partnership with Everything Organic:
You graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering yet you now run CityFarm. What drove you to pursue a career in the agriculture/food sector, organic food in particular?
I have worked for nearly 30 years for multinationals in Turkey. Not just in Turkey but also in different parts of the world like India, Sri Lanka and the UK. The company that I have worked with most is Unilever, a big multinational food business, and that’s why, although being a mechanical engineer, I have worked with different departments related to food, and that built up my passion for food. After my retirement – I retired when I was 52 years old; that was nearly 10 years ago – organic food was developing in Europe and also in my country, Turkey. So I thought, 52 is not a very late age at all to start another business. Let’s do something related to food again, this time organic food.
What makes organic food special?
Organic food is a special type of food because whatever you produce, you have to comply with all the laws and regulations of the food. On top of that, certainly it has to obey all laws and regulations of organic agriculture as well. Organic agriculture is a system where you are not allowed to use any chemicals or artificial matters, from the field to the table. On top of that, every stage of the process has to be checked, analysed and certified. This is the main point, and that makes organic food different from the other categories.
Please tell us a bit about the background of CityFarm. How and when was it started?
That’s quite interesting. I was the chairman of the food business of a very big holding company in Turkey, just after my retirement, as a professional adviser. And actually, that was a gigantic group with many lines of business, but under the food division, there were eight companies, one of which was CityFarm. So the idea was, to bring all the eight food companies under the umbrella and create a synergy so that each of the companies benefits from that, one of which was CityFarm. Most of the companies were Turkish companies. Some were old-fashioned. Some of them, the cycle time was almost finished. Some of them, we have sold the name. Some we have closed down and brought under one roof. At the end of the day, there was a small food business.
So after all that, I realised there was nothing much left to do at that holding organisation. And this organic food business, this small company, was a standalone. And I made an offer to the owner of this holding. I said, ‘If you’re willing to sell the company, I’m prepared to buy it.’ So I made a management buyout. And at that time, the company was very small; it was eight people. It had just one dedicated shop in Istanbul and served some supermarkets, also in Istanbul. Today, we have achieved 10 shops: seven in Istanbul, one in Ankara, one in Izmir and one in Bodrum. We are quite strong in the supermarkets that we are dealing with, and we have 157 people working for us today. So we have really increased the business, and I’m really honoured and really proud of having achieved this in less than seven years.
How did CityFarm’s collaboration with Everything Organic here in Hong Kong come about?
We have started doing some exports over recent years. Thank God we have started with Hong Kong, with this very lovely city and also with my business partner here, Everything Organic. Susanna is a good friend of my partner, and they happen to have studied in the UK together. So that was the reason we came together. We already started exporting to Hong Kong before, but our intention is not to be just an importing and exporting company here. We have to – and we like to – build up an organic business in Hong Kong as well. And also in Singapore and Korea. So Susanna will pick up these parts of the work as well.
What does the word ‘organic’ mean to you and why is it important to buy organic?
Organic is not just food. Organic is actually synonymous with ecology and biology. In German, they call it bio. In French, they call it l’écologie. In Turkey and the US, they call it organic. Organic, to me, is a different way of living. It means staying away from all the chemicals and all the artificial things, no GMOs. And this is not just about food. We can talk about organic clothing, organic hotels, organic restaurants and cafés. To me, this is very unique. Our way of living organic is very unique. Especially, organic agriculture pays a lot of attention to the welfare of animals and also protects the environment by not poisoning it. In a way, all chemicals, and some artificial materials, if not used properly, are a big threat to our environment, apart from our health as well.
What are some of the most popular CityFarm products? Which products do you especially love?
Our bestselling product in Turkey is organic eggs, but I love our full range of products. We have organic fresh poultry, organic fresh beef, organic fresh vegetables and fruits. We’ve also got dried fruits, fruit juices, granola, chocolates and many more, all organic.
What foods do you enjoy eating in Hong Kong?
This is my second time in Hong Kong. I personally like seafood, and thanks to Susanna, we had the chance last time to taste some seafood, and I loved it. I’ll be staying here three more days, and I think we’re going to enjoy it. Hong Kong is a very interesting city – you see a big amalgamation of different cultures and everyone is friendly. I’m very fascinated.
To purchase CityFarm products in Hong Kong, please go to our Foodie eMarket.