The Man Who Introduced Ceylon Tea to European Markets

Ayhan Bakan, President of Orient GmbH.

Vienna, Austria-
Though it interrupted the course of politics, Turkey’s coup d’état of September 12, 1980 culminated in significant changes in the lives of many young people during those years. When the army took over the state administration, many young people preferred to go abroad to get away from the political turmoil.
In those days Ayhan Bakan, who had graduated from Marmara University, one of the few universities in Istanbul at that time, came to Dortmund in Germany to get a Ph.D. The coup d’état took place one week after he arrived in Germany. His scholarship was frozen and he was left helpless in the country to which he had come to get an education. He attended Ruhr University for about 2.5 years. Later, he replied to an advertisement issued by the Austrian government to teach religious instruction courses for Turkish junior high school students. Twelve friends moved to Austria from Germany as religious instructors.

Afterwards, five of these friends, including Ayhan Bakan, established the Orient GmbH textile company in 1984. The company was founded using an endowed fund composed of 10 thousand marks given by each one of the five founders. One of the instructors left his job to take care of the daily business of the Orient. The business life that was launched in textiles soon transformed into a food industry. As the partners who got a start in business in a 30 square meter store withdrew from the company one by one, the Orient passed into the ownership of Bakan in 1986.
Bakan at his food company in Vienna.

Upon the arrival of his siblings from Turkey, Bakan began to expand the business. In the course of time the, 30 square meter area went up to 100 and then 300 square meters. He began to import food from the foreign business company which they established in Turkey in 1988. Today, Orient, under its own brand name, provides all European markets, Austria being first on the list, with every kind of dried food. In addition to the German based Turkish food producers such as Baktat, Efe Firat, Yayla, Sera, Namlı and Türkel which carry the banner with their own icon, Etsan and Orient are known as the two leading companies in Austrian markets.

In 1986 Bakan became the first businessman to import Ceylon tea to Europe. When Turkish tea became discredited following the Chernobyl disaster, Bakan edged towards and then became associated with Ceylon tea. Today the Orient is one of the largest tea importers in Europe. The Orient played an important role in converting the Turkish population in Europe into Ceylon tea consumers.

The Orient, which presently sells tea with Anatolian brand names such as Ece, Karadeniz, Colombo, Keyif, is a leader in the tea market. Olives rank as the third most consumed product by the Turkish population in Europe, following meat and milk products. The Orient, besides producing its own olives under the brand name of Ece, also exports to Europe the olives produced at its own company in Akhisar, Manisa. The company, established with an investment of 1.5 million Euro ($ 2.2 million) exports olives to 26 countries.

The Orient, which at one point entered the retail sector in Turkey by opening a supermarket, later dissolved this business and withdrew from the market at the time of the great financial crisis of 2001. Presently, the Orient, with a staff of 20 at its principal office in Vienna, has 350 employees in its companies that produce products under its own brand name. Bakan affirms that they have started to produce cheese for the North American market. He believes that cheese exported to Canada will edge into the market in the course of time.

Rafet Fırat and Şahin Tekiner, who were partners in founding the Orient, remain in Austria where they are involved in other kinds of businesses. The other original partners, Mustafa Bozdemir and Arif Altunbaş, returned to Turkey. Bakan has two children, a daughter and a son, and says that now the second generation has gradually begun to assume their responsibilities.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07