Chocolate pricing

Turkey’s hazelnut growers get angry at Nutella’s “monopoly”

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Kneeling from dawn to dusk, Turkish farmers who pluck most of the hazelnuts that go into Nutella spreads complain of exploitation and meager wages, creating a labor rights dispute.

The little heart-shaped nut that makes Nutella a guilty pleasure is a commodity dear to Turkey, which accounts for 82% of global exports.

But this love is not shared by Mehmet Sirin, a 25-year-old from southeastern Turkey, mostly Kurdish, who travels to the lush northern valleys filled with hazelnut trees to make a living during harvest season. .

“We work 12 hours a day. It’s a demanding job,” said Sirin, a balaclava shielding him from a cold mist covering the leafy ground where the hazelnuts hide after they have ripened and fallen from the trees.

“The hazelnuts that we pick go abroad and come back in the form of Nutella. They make more profit than us. It’s exploitation,” he said in the city of Akyazi, on the black Sea.

The world-famous spread is made by Italian confectionery Ferrero, Turkey’s largest buyer of hazelnuts. Other sweets from the global giant include Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Kinder chocolate eggs.

But the Italian company is developing ill will in Turkey, where farmers are paid around 12 euros ($ 14) a day to collect nuts and stuff them into huge bags which they then drag on their backs.

“They have a monopoly, they have a free hand,” said Aydin Simsek, 43, a local producer who watches his dozen workers pick nuts out of the corner of his eye.

Turkish hazelnut producer Aydin Simsek says Nutella has “a monopoly, they have a free hand” Ozan KOSE AFP

“You see our terms, how hard we work,” he said, explaining that the price he gets for a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of hazelnuts has dropped to 22.5 lira (2, $ 30).

“This year I will not be selling my nuts to Ferrero,” he said.

“Market dynamics”

Ferrero has six factories and employs more than 1,000 people in Turkey, where it sources hazelnuts from the agriculture-rich northern Black Sea regions of the country for 35 years.

In 2014, it acquired the Turkish group Oltan, a local market leader that buys, processes and sells nuts.

A Ferrero spokesperson told AFP that the Italian company does not “own or manage farms in Turkey directly and does not source hazelnuts directly from farmers.”

It “obtains the nuts it needs for its products by complying with free market regulations and based on market dynamics,” said the spokesperson for Ferrero.

This argument leaves Turkish farmers indifferent.

“For the love of God, they buy hazelnuts 22-23 lire per kilo and sell them for 23 dollars,” criticized the president of the Istanbul section of the Turkish Chamber of Agriculture, Omer Demir.

Farmers are paid 12 euros a day to collect nuts from the ground and stuff them into huge bags which they then carry around on their backs

Farmers are paid 12 euros a day to collect nuts from the ground and stuff them into huge bags which they then carry around on their backs Ozan KOSE AFP

“Turkey exports around 300,000 tonnes of hazelnuts to the world. How strange that only foreign companies are profiting from this trade,” he said with bitter irony.

Demir said Ferrero and other global companies that source Turkish hazelnuts are providing tools and fertilizer to farmers, paying for their crops in advance.

They are “running their own show,” Demir said, calling on the Turkish competition authority to step in.

“Otherwise, they’ll control everything everywhere and we’ll get to a point where we can’t sell our product to anyone but them,” Demir said.

– ‘I needed money’-

Producer Cabbar Saka already feels he has no choice, selling his entire month’s harvest to traders working on behalf of the Italian company.

“I needed the money because my daughter was going to get married,” Saka said.

“Producers are afraid to denounce Ferrero,” said Sener Bayraktar, who heads the Akyazi chamber of agriculture.

“They fear that if they speak up, they will no longer be able to sell their nuts.”

The hazelnuts that make Nutella a guilty pleasure are an expensive commodity in Turkey

The hazelnuts that make Nutella a guilty pleasure are an expensive commodity in Turkey Ozan KOSE AFP

To find a solution, Bayraktar wants the Turkish Grain Board – a state regulator that oversees prices, storage and payments – to increase its quotas so that producers can sell more nuts, thus diversifying their customer base.

The Turkish government has said it is ready to help, raising hope at the local level.

In Akyazi, where farmers dry their harvest on tarpaulins spread over their front yards, producer Simsek said he wanted to break his dependence on Italians as soon as he could.

“If Nutella had bought our hazelnuts on a fair basis, if it didn’t oppress us, we would be proud and we would eat them ourselves,” he said.

“But the way they work, we can’t stand Nutella anymore.”