Turkey 'national drink' debate may stir ayran sales

Erdoğan's endorsement of the salty yogurt drink ayran as Turkey's national drink has dealers of the beverage hoping for record-breaking sales.

Turkey 'national drink' debate may stir ayran sales

World Bulletin/News Desk

It may seem mainly the stuff of Turkey's ongoing culture wars, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Friday endorsement of the salty yogurt drink ayran as Turkey's national drink -- and his condemnation of any alcoholic alternative -- has dealers of the beverage hoping for record-breaking sales.

“We're definitely expecting that [Erdoğan's] comments are going to boost our sales in an appreciable way,” said Harun Çallı, president of the Milk Producers and Exporters Union (ASÜD), to the Cihan news agency on Monday. The country's rakı dealers, meanwhile, may see their futures become as cloudy as their product -- an opaque anise liquor beloved by the country's secular-minded. But the massive alcohol tax revenues Ankara is generating from rakı and other alcoholic drinks suggest the government may both tolerate and vilify the aperitif.

On Friday, Erdoğan declared at a conference on alcohol policy in Istanbul that, “Our national drink is ayran." He believes beer and rakı to be vestiges of a lifestyle endorsed by past secular governments. "As a lifestyle, there is no way you can defend the consumption of alcohol, it has no benefit to society,” he said.

Pınar Süt, a publically traded dairy company, saw its stock jump 3 percent in the minutes after the prime minister's announcement, though the stock gradually made its way back down later in the day.

“I found the comments quite proper and true,” said Çallı, who stated that the industry is expecting “an important boost” in sales. Çallı's comments to Cihan mostly pointed to an already fast-growing market for the unique beverage. “In 2012 ayran production grew 10 percent over 2011 to 508,444 gross tons,” he said.

If the endorsement is to change Turkish drinking habits, it may be unlikely to reducing alcohol consumption; a study by Bahçeşehir University's Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM) showed that alcohol consumption was already low, with only 6 percent of Turkish households consuming alcoholic drinks in 2008. More likely, the endorsement may boost ayran sales, to the detriment of international soda brands or Turkey's wide range of equally unique drinks like the fiery şalgam suyu -- a salted turnip and red carrot pickle drink -- and gazoz -- Turkey's nostalgic, bubble-gum-flavored soda.

Çallı suggested on Monday that the dairy union might take one trick from the makers of spirits and attempt to patent Susurluk ayran, which comes from dairies located in the province of Balıkesir. “These products can be patented by defining the ingredients and the regions where they must originate,” he said.

Turkish rakı producers may meanwhile be trying to one up that effort. Over the weekend, Turkey's Association for Manufacturers of Traditional Alcoholic Beverages (GİSDER) said it would apply to the EU for a continent-wide patent for the spirit, which is already patented in Turkey.

More importantly for alcohol producers might be the weight that “sin taxes” have become for Ankara's tax collectors, who have in the last two years raised alcohol taxes to boost sagging revenues. According to the state-run Turkish Statistics Agency (TurkStat), taxes on spirits and beer in March were TL 336.9 million ($187.45 million), an appreciable chunk of the total TL 24.7 billion ($13.7 billion) in revenue taken in for March. With a budget deficit of TL 5.4 billion ($3 billion) that month, Ankara may be happy to cash in on sprits and beer, "sin" not withstanding.

Last Mod: 30 Nisan 2013, 12:23
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