Uludağ İçecek


Famous for its beautiful landscapes, the province of Bursa also became known for another gift of nature after 1870. That is when a source of mineral water was discovered in the village of Günderet on the flanks of Mount Uludağ (then known as Keşiş Dağı), turning into a saga of business and healthy beverages that has lasted into this century. The first person to notice the source, appreciate its potential, and take steps towards its commercialization was İbrahim Talat Bey, a government functionary posted in Bursa. The undertaking required significant capital investment, so he looked for a partner and found him in a French businessman residing in Bursa named Monsieur Brune (Yosi Bürün in archival records). The land was surveyed and the exact location of the source was determined, after which an 8-dönüm area (approximately two acres) was purchased for 3,000 kuruş from Hacı Ali and Mustafa, son of Molla Şerif, each half to be owned by one of the partners. However, two Ottoman businessmen who had been exploiting the Çitli mineral water sources nearby complained to the authorities that the competition would hurt their business and thus İbrahim Talat Bey and his partner were not granted the license they needed to proceed with their plans. In 1890, they bought another plot in the same area and tried once again to obtain a license, but failed. Brune therefore sold his shares in the enterprise to another Frenchman named Bourousine.

While the two partners busied themselves with their own occupations, they also continued their struggle to obtain the necessary licenses, and their efforts finally paid off in 1912. İbrahim Talat Bey and his brother-in-law Mehmed Fuad Bey had both suffered as a result of the reorganizations that had followed the proclamation of the Constitution in 1908; they joined forces and renewed their attempts to extract and commercialize the source of mineral water. At long last they received a sixty-year concession, certified by Sultan Mehmed V (Reşad), to operate the Keşiş Dağı Maden Suyu (Mineral Water) source, as it was then called, provided that they abided by certain conditions and paid all the necessary taxes and fees. It took another year to build the facilities and complete the necessary medical inspections, so that the product was finally bottled and marketed in 1913. The assays performed by a certain Dr. Bedros led him to the conclusion that the mineral characteristics of the water were “superior” to its European counterparts, and that its use was strongly recommended.

As Keşiş Dağı mineral water gained popularity, it came to be regarded as having virtually medicinal powers. Like Dr. Bedros, many other physicians too recommended it to their patients. A report dated 10 November 1914 and prepared by the Chief Physician of the Gureba Hospital in Bursa listed the patients that were sure to benefit from drinking mineral water as follows: “Its curative effects in cases of indigestion, stomach ailments, liver problems, miscellaneous urological disorders such as sand and necrosis, infections of the kidneys and the bladder, and urinary tract problems is certain and well-established. Therefore we consider it our obligation to recommend Keşiş Dağı mineral water, by very far preferable to European mineral waters, to the wider public.”

In the years that followed, first the duration of the concession was extended and then, in 1915, operation rights were formally tendered to İbrahim Talat Bey and his brother-in-law Mehmed Fuad Bey. Maps of the area were produced, the water was analyzed, and various communications were exchanged among different ministers, so that final approval was issued by the Council of State in the Summer of 1916. Another indication that things were moving during this period is that cork for bottling was imported from Germany. Despite the difficulties caused to business and international trade by the war, the fact that Keşiş Dağı was the only firm capable of sustaining production and the curative powers of the mineral water induced the government to step in; cork was imported with the assistance of three ministries, notably the Ministry of the Interior.

İbrahim Talat Bey died in 1917, and his shares were inherited by his wife Şerife Hanım. The family tried hard to stay afloat during those tumultuous years, as an Empire collapsed and a Republic was founded. At about the same time, the future proprietor of Keşiş Dağı mineral water, Yağcızade Mehmed Hakkı Bey, began to cut his teeth in the business world: he opened a grocery in 1921.

In 1922, the family lost two members, both named Mehmed Fuad: Şerife Hanım’s son and her brother. She was thus left as the sole owner of the firm. Fortunately Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey, the husband of Şerife Hanım’s sister Neyyire Hanım, came to the rescue. An agreement was signed in 1923 according to which Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey, a public servant for many years and decorated by Germany and Hungary during the war, was given all the rights by Şerife Hanım in exchange for committing himself to take care of her until her death.

For the next two years, Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey did his best to get the company going again. In 1925, it is requested that the company raise its production to compensate for the underproduction of the previous years, due to the deaths in the family and the Greek occupation of Bursa. As a result, Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey unexpectedly lost the family’s concession for exploiting the source in 1926. The government took back the rights and the source remained idle until 1931. During these years, Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey contested the government’s actions numerous times and made repeated attempts to take back the concession.

Another development during these years was that the mountain Keşiş Dağı was renamed. On the initiative of Dr. Osman Şevki Bey, a physician, historian, and member of parliament, the mountain was given the new name Uludağ, so that the name of the site of the source of mineral water had to be changed in all the maps and records. Moreover, Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey’s patient and persistent struggle bore fruit in 1930, as indicated in an official report published that year which listed three mineral water concessions, one of which was Uludağ. Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey received a concession certificate signed by Mustafa Kemal himself, and the following year, the concession was tendered to his firm Uludağ Maden Suları Türk Limited Şirketi. A news article published in the newspaper Cumhuriyet reported that two more wells had been discovered in the vicinity of Sıtkı Bey’s facilities; one was similar in its chemical characteristics to the mineral water of Vichy while the other, rich in sulphur, was similar to those of Labon.

In 1930, Mehmed Hakkı Bey —at the time involved with the insurance business— founded the beverage firm Erbak-Uludağ İçecek A.Ş. He also built a factory to produce a carbonated drink named Nilüfer Gazoz. In 1932, his son Nuri Erbak invented the formula for another beverage that became known as Uludağ Gazoz, and began marketing the product.

This was the beginning of a brand adventure that would continue for generations. In March 1934, the facilities of Uludağ Maden Suyu were leased for five years by Mehmed Hakkı Bey, thus strengthening the Nilüfer brand. It was clear that he had a grand vision for his enterprise. A newspaper advertisement published in 1934 began by recounting the benefits of mineral water, then went on to describe discounts for wholesale purchases as well as delivery to subscribers; most important was the final sentence: “Seeking provincial agencies.” Another indication that the volume of business had grown was that Uludağ mineral waters were exhibited at the Turkish pavilion of the 1937 Salonika Fair. Uludağ returned from the fair with the Grand Prize.

Mehmed Hakkı Erbak died in 1938, leaving an energetic heir at the head of a company with a bright future. Nuri Erbak thereupon became the director of the Uludağ mineral water enterprise. Although business slowed down during World War II, the company “Uludağ ‘Keşişdağ’ Maden Suları Türk Ltd.” appeared in the most prestigious postwar commercial directories as disposing of a capital of 12,500 TL. Nuri Erbak registered the brand Uludağ Meyvalı Gazozları (Uludağ Fruit-Flavored Carbonated Drinks) in 1949; he would soon be joined by competitors with similar names and logos.

Mehmet Erbak, the future leader of the concern, was born in 1950. Meanwhile, Nuri Erbak’s busy schedule in both the social and political domains had led him to turn over the directorship of the enterprise to his brother, the architect İhsan Erbak. In 1955, the company began to produce cola as well as orange-flavored carbonated drinks.

Some important changes took place during this period concerning the ownership of the company. First, Guido Parodi, an Italian citizen and partner in Uludağ Maden Suları Türk Limited Şirketi, turned over his share of the company on 22 October 1953 to Neriman Erbak, wife of Nuri Erbak. Then Hüseyin Sıtkı Bey, who owned the rest of the company, died on 6 January 1958, having willed his own share to Nuri Zafer Erbak. Thus, by 1958, the company was wholely owned by the Erbak family. From then on, the family continued the tradition of drawing higher management from within the family, making sure they get a solid academic education as well as coming up through the ranks of the enterprise. Mehmet Erbak, for instance, started spending time at the firm when he was only fifteen or sixteen years old. He took some managerial responsibilities during the 1970s and became Chairman of the Board when Nuri Erbak died in 1993.

All these processes were concurrent with innovation and entrepreneurship. From selling mineral water in green bottles to bottling machines that could fill 4000 —and later 8000— bottles per hour, major innovations in the industry all came from Uludağ. A growing network of resellers, high ranks among taxpayers, marketing and sales chains stretching from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to the United States and Australia... these were all the natural consequences of these developments.

The first aluminum caps and the first deposit liter bottles were introduced in 1978, the first high-mineral, naturally carbonated mineral water in plastic bottles in 1981, the first diet beverages in 1985, the first cans in 1988, the first mass-produced but freshly-squeezed-tasting lemonade in 2007, and the first cobalt blue bottles in 2009. Today, Uludağ İçecek owns two world-class, high-tech facilities, one occupying a total of 80,000 square meters in the Industrial Zone of Yenice in Bursa, and the other occupying a total of 50,000 square meters in the Çaybaşı village on Uludağ. Their product line began with mineral water, to which carbonated soft drinks were subsequently added; today, it includes thirty two different products in six categories sold under eighteen brands in 107 types of packaging. It has combined its experiences in fruit drinks and mineral water in innovative ways.

The firm continues to contribute to the city in which it was born, from its elementary schools to its university, and from its cultural and artistic institutions to its charities.


BUTTİM arkası Doğanevler Mah. (Kanalboyu) No:33 Osmangazi – Bursa
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