Raki: The lion's share

06 February, 2019

So while this aniseed spirit undoubtedly has a strong domestic base, it’s unsurprising that producers might be keen to bring it to a wider audience, particularly in countries with strong Turkish communities.

“As Germany is home to approximately 3m German Turks, Germany is a crucial market for Yeni Raki,” says Tina Ingwersen-Matthiesen, board member of Borco, distributor of Yeni, as well as Tekirdag in that country. “With around 2m bottles sold annually in Germany, [Yeni Raki] is the first brand that comes to consumers’ minds when thinking of raki and as such enjoys strong consumer loyalty.”

The pursuit of other markets is important to Efe too. “Because of export we can ensure increasing sales and sales potential in general,” says Aygün. “Instead of earning money by selling our offerings on the local market, we have started to focus on discovering new opportunities to present our work abroad.”

In Turkey, and consequently in Turkish restaurants abroad, the traditional way of drinking raki – either neat, alongside water, or diluted with water – is not only steeped in Turkish culture, but inextricably linked with food. “The term ‘raki sofrasi’ or ‘raki table’ speaks to the importance that raki plays in comparison to the Turkish mezes on offer,” explains Patnode. “Raki is the reason for the meal, not the food.”

Ingwersen-Matthiesen agrees. “Wine is selected to complement food, but for raki, the reverse is true. It is the only drink in the world with an entire culinary culture to go with it,” she says. This presents opportunities in other markets such as Germany, where the Turkish restaurant market is evolving. Ingwersen-Matthiesen describes “an increasing number of high-profile Turkish restaurants”, and the potential these have to “introduce their guests to raki culture and mezze dishes. Food-sharing and food-pairings are two trends which can be seen across different spirits categories.”

Like any other spirit traversing the contemporary global drinks market, mixed drinks are an important tool to consider. “Cocktails could be helpful in promoting raki abroad, since the strong anise flavour can be too aggressive for someone not accustomed to its power,” says Patnode.

COCKTAIL CULTURE

This is a particular focus for Yeni Raki’s marketing activity, with the brand’s website listing a number of cocktail suggestions. The brand further emphasised this in London last year with a cocktail competition featuring a line-up of competitors from venues not predominantly Turkish.

“As part of the flourishing cocktail and bar scene in Germany, we see that there are new ways of experiencing Yeni Raki are emerging as well,” confirms Ingwersen-Matthiesen. “Drinks such as the Ottoman Mule, with ginger beer, or as a Highball in combination with watermelon and mint, are increasingly popular.”

There’s also space for raki as a substitute for anise spirits in general, as the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) recognises. Its information officer, Linda Bouchard, confirms that the corporation has sold 200 cases of Yeni Raki and Efe Fresh Grapes per year in recent years, having listed these not because of a specific demand for the Turkish spirit, but “to give the largest variety of anise-flavoured spirit to our clients”.

While the category looks outwards and at new ways to promote itself, producers are re-evaluating the product itself, with a number of new entrants in recent years. According to Aygün, 60 products were produced by six companies in 2013, while today there are eight companies and 80 products.

“Certain large producers such as Yeni Raki and Tekirdag are producing premium versions of their heritage brands, using barrel ageing, copper stills, or roasted aniseed,” says Patnode. “Smaller brands such as Beylerbeyi have become quite popular among Istanbul’s elite, with their Gobek series and retro paper-wrapped packaging becoming the raki to order at hip meze and kebab restaurants.”

With the beginnings of this new approach to its products, and a willingness to develop export markets as well as build on the category’s cocktail potential, there’s cause for optimism, but it remains to be seen whether Turkey’s lion’s milk can flourish beyond its devoted following at home.





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