Trend Dergi – Interview

Trend Dergi – Interview

October 17, 1993
Trend Dergi / Mehmet Kara

Cuneyd Zapsu explained how they settled into the European market: “First, we earned their trust. We sold the intermediate goods that they manufactured for cheaper. When they cut down on their investments on the manufacturing of intermediate goods, they fell behind us technologically and they became unable to manufacture cheaper than us, even if they wanted to.”


“Strategy” Lessons for the Strategy-Enthusiasts

 Azizler Holding is a group that is known more for its UZEL Machine Factory in Turkey. But now, the activity of its textile, ready wear and food branches within its holding is in the forefront. Balsu Gıda, operating within Azizler Holding, has been receiving the exporter’s award for the last six years. The company had over 30 million Dollars of export within the last year. And its target for this year is 50 million Dollars…

Cuneyd Zapsu, who is in charge of Balsu Gıda, Parsu and the Holding’s A+C Marketing companies which are founded in Germany, went to primary school in Germany and high school at the German School of Istanbul. He got into the Istanbul University’s Business School and also enrolled at the University of Munich.

Cuneyd Zapsu and his older brother Aziz Zapsu, who is the Head of the All Food Importers Association (TÜGİDER), began working as workers even though they were the children of an employer father. They worked at their father’s UZEL factory during their secondary school and high school years. Except for the scissors department, which is the most dangerous department of the factory in terms of job safety, of course… Because their mother would not agree to it.

Both brothers got into the UZEL Board of Directors at a very young age, during the last years of college. But Cuneyd Zapsu, who got married at the age of 21 and now has three daughters, was not able to adapt to the situation all that much. He got home every night as a “bag of nerves”. He says during the Board of Directors meetings, “They never listened to me, never took me seriously despite all my rashness and arrogance out of youth”. He went to Germany to “revive” his father’s company importing thread and raw clothing in Munich. School on the one hand, while carrying on with importing thread and raw clothing on the other… Meanwhile, he convinced his older brother Aziz Zapsu, whom he got hooked, to come to Germany a year later. And they took the business that they had started from scratch forward at the end of 1978 and turned it into a business of 300 thousand Marks in 1979. This figure increased incrementally every year and reached 3 million Marks in 1980, 8,5 million in 1981, 22 million in 1982 and 35 million in 1983. During this time, they imported many products from live crawfish to soap and readymade garments.

During all these works, Turkey’s hazelnut export caught Zapsu’s attention. Turkey only export raw materials. “Why?” he asked to himself, “Why would manufactured goods not be exported just like in the textile and readymade garment industry?”. After a little research, he understood that this was feasible. Having made his first contact with Memduh Hacıoğlu, the Head of the Istanbul Chamber of Industry (ISO), started bringing the products of Balin Şekerleme to Germany. Then, the company’s other products came into the picture. Cuneyd Zapsu founded another company in Germany in 1983 and focused on the hazelnut business by transferring the other business to his older brother Aziz Zapsu.

Zapsu, who speaks Germany at a near-native level, says that he has not encountered any challenges in communicating with the Europeans, but that the attitude toward him changed the moment he “declared” that he is Turkish. According to Zapsu, the foreigners are scared of “uncertainty” above all… They want to know whether the prices will change, thus whether the undertakings will be implemented.

From trade to manufacturing

Getting the blow in 1985 paved the way for a new step. The Zapsus decided to establish a hazelnut spread facility. “Pops would be more than willing to do this” says Cuneyd Zapsu. Because he is worried about both of his sons going to Germany for good. They decided to establish the facility jointly with Memduh Hacıoğlu and they named the company: Balsu. ‘Bal’ from Balin Şekerleme, and ‘Su’ from Zapsu… The Zapsus took care of establishing the company when Memduh Hacıoğlu did not get along well with his own family then. But they did not change the name Balsu which they “fathered” with Hacıoğlu.

Balsu started getting many offers like “establish this, do that” from their customers who found out about them opening a hazelnut processing facility. Because they got hooked on the trust created by Balsu. The existence of such a trustworthy partner was vital to them because they were in it for the long run. The Italian Ferrero Group, one of Balsu’s biggest customers, made them a partnership offer in 1988. They received the answer, “Come on in, if you bring along your own products” and thus Ferrero became Balsu’s partner with 49 percent… Ferrero’s most common product in Turkey is Kinder Surprise… Ferrero left Balsu’s management to the Zapsus. But they were extremely meticulous about auditing and they performed it themselves. Balsu also got into food import business after this partnership.

Hazelnuts, hazelnut kernels, roasted hazelnut kernels, several types of roasted and chopped hazelnut kernels and hazelnut spread… The food group of Azizler Holding currently does all of these aside from hazelnuts garden ownership. That is, it purchases hazelnuts, it breaks them, roasts them, chops them and crushes them. And next up is the foodstuff made using hazelnut spread… Yes, the Zapsus are determined to do that, too… For now, Balsu Gıda markets the products which is provides via import.

Cuneyd Zapsu knows Europe well and knows which factories need what kind of products. Zapsu, who emphasizes that it is difficult to make it in the European market, says that they offer 30-40 cents less per kilo than the price that they produce to sell any product to the businessmen in Europe. The businessmen wish to buy a product of the desired standard at a lower price but the difference between should be at least this much, because the businessmen do not want to be faced with the risk of not being able to find the products. They ask for a satisfactory discount to take the risk. Saying that they gave up on the investments for the intermediary goods manufacturing of the factories which they made contacts with during the first years with Balsu, Zapsu says, “Therefore, they fell behind us technologically. They became unable to make intermediary goods at a low cost even if they wanted to make them…”

Cuneyd Zapsu believes that Turkey must start selling brands… Zapsu considers Sağra franchising abroad to be a crucial step taken in the food sector in this sense, and also gives the early signals about them increasing their manufacturing and marketing activities in the chocolate and candy sector in the next period.


Name – Last Name : Cuneyd Hasan Zapsu

Place of birth: Istanbul

Date and time : 19/11/1956, 22.30

Zodiac sign: Scorpio

Lucky number: None

Favorite color: Blue

Occupation: Businessman

Education: Istanbul University, Business

Foreign languages: German, English

Marital status: Married

Number of children: 3 daughters

Favorite soccer team: GS

Car brand: BMW

Does he have another car?: No

How many credit cards does he have, any which ones? : He has most of them (Necessary, unnecessary)

Which one does he use the most?: Visa, Amex

Which country has he been to the most?: Germany

The country that he wishes to be taken as an example : The USA in terms of the parliament and foundation system, Germany in terms of associations and the social system

His favorite political leader : Turgut Özal

The party that he supports: None

Is he actively interested in politics?: Yes

Does he consider politics?: –

Number of daily newspapers that he reads: 4 – 5

Number of weekly magazines that he reads: 3 – 4

Monthly magazines that he follows: All the magazines in English and German

Hobbies: Chess, Tetris