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Special Interview with Tuba Yılmaz of Gaia Oliva

  • delicious Japan
  • April 24, 2024
The Turkish Pavilion has been increasing its presence at Foodex Japan each year. This year, 2024, marks the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Turkiye and Japan. The exhibition saw over 50 Turkish companies participate. We had the pleasure of speaking with Tuba Yılmaz, the founder of Gaia Oliva, one of the most prominent exhibitors at the Turkish Pavilion.

Tuba Yılmaz
Founder of Gaia Oliva

Could you please introduce yourself and your company briefly?

Hello! I'm Tuba Yılmaz, the founder of Gaia Oliva. My journey towards creating Gaia Oliva has been influenced by both my personal values and professional experiences. I've always been deeply passionate about health, wellness, and the environment. Growing up, I was surrounded by strong women who instilled in me the values of hard work, determination, and compassion.
After completing my business studies, I had the privilege to work as the CFO for one of Turkey's leading denim companies. This role provided me with invaluable insights into the business world and financial management.
Despite my corporate background, I've always harbored an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to make a meaningful impact.
My passion for health and wellness eventually led me to explore the world of olive oil. That's how Gaia Oliva started, focusing on producing high-quality olive oil from locally harvested olives in the Northern Aegean Region. At Gaia Oliva, we are dedicated to using sustainable agricultural practices that respect and protect Mother Earth. We strive to offer our customers the nutritious and healing properties of olives while adding a unique and flavorful touch to their tables.

Italy, Spain, Greece, and others have been introducing olive oil to the Japanese market for many years. What is the difference between Turkish olive oil and those from other countries?

Well, you know, when it comes to olive oil, it's a bit like wine or coffee; the flavors can vary quite a bit depending on where it comes from. So, with Turkish olive oil, you're looking at some unique varieties of olives, like Memecik and Ayvalik. These olives have their own special taste that you won't find in the more common varieties from places like Italy or Spain.
And let's talk about the land where these olives grow – what we call the 'terroir.' As a matter of fact, olive trees have been an integral part of our land for over 6,000 years and it has its own special soil and climate conditions that give its olive oil a distinct flavor.
When it comes to flavor, Turkish olive oil tends to be balanced and fruity, maybe with hints of herbs or nuts. It's versatile and can really add something special to your cooking.
So, while Italian, Spanish, and Greek olive oils have their own unique qualities and are amazing, Turkish olive oil offers something different and exciting for those looking to explore new flavors. It's definitely worth giving it a try if you're an olive oil enthusiast like me!

Do you have any strategic products specifically aimed at the Japanese market among your company's olive oil products?

When targeting the Japanese market, it's crucial to develop a strategy that aligns with the unique tastes, preferences, and cultural nuances of Japanese consumers. Given the Japanese culinary emphasis on fresh, natural flavors and health benefits, we're considering introducing specialized agrumato method olive oils. For example, in addition to our premium award-winning olive oils, Gaia’s citrus-flavored olive oils could offer a refreshing and tangy flavor profile that appeals to local preferences. Additionally, our olive oil-based body care products could also resonate with Japanese consumers.

Where is your company targeting distribution in Japan? Retail stores or HoReCa?

We're actually aiming to get our products in both retail stores and restaurants across Japan. We think it's a great way to make sure everyone, whether they're cooking at home or dining out, can get a taste of our olive oils. Plus, it gives people the chance to try it in different settings and dishes!

How do you expect your company's olive oil to be used in ordinary Japanese households?

We're hoping our olive oil becomes a go-to in Japanese kitchens! Whether it's for daily cooking, drizzling over salads, or trying out new recipes, we think it'll add a delicious touch to a variety of dishes. Plus, with the trend of international flavors catching on, it could be fun to see how creative people get with it in their cooking.

You come to Japan and exhibit at Foodex, but what are the difficulties and challenges associated with entering the Japanese market?

Absolutely, breaking into the Japanese market isn't as straightforward as it might seem. One of the first things we noticed is that Japanese consumers have unique tastes and preferences compared to other markets. So, tailoring our olive oil to suit those preferences while still staying true to our brand's identity has been a bit of a balancing act.
Then there's the paperwork and regulations. We need to make sure every aspect of our product, from the ingredients to the packaging, meets Japanese standards. It's a meticulous process, but it's necessary to ensure the safety and quality of our olive oil.
Building trust with Japanese consumers is another challenge. The market is already saturated with established brands, so standing out and convincing people to try our olive oil requires creative marketing strategies and collaborations with local influencers or chefs.
So yes, while entering the Japanese market is full of challenges, it's also incredibly rewarding. It's a learning curve, and we're excited about the opportunities and growth potential it offers for our brand.

Do you have any plans to further establish Turkish olive oil in the Japanese market?

Absolutely! We recognize the potential and growing interest in Turkish olive oil among Japanese consumers. To further establish Turkish olive oil in the Japanese market, we're planning targeted marketing campaigns highlighting the unique flavors and quality of our olive oils. Collaborations with local chefs, restaurants, and influencers are also on the horizon to showcase the versatility of Turkish olive oil in both traditional and modern Japanese cuisine.
Additionally, participating in food expos and hosting tasting events will allow us to directly engage with consumers, educating them about the distinct characteristics and health benefits of Turkish olive oil. Our goal is to make Turkish olive oil a staple in Japanese households and a preferred choice for chefs and home cooks alike.

Please tell us about your future goals in Japan.

Certainly! Our future goals in Japan are quite ambitious yet achievable. First and foremost, we aim to increase brand awareness and establish a strong presence in the Japanese market by collaborating with local influencers, chefs, and culinary experts. We also plan to expand our product range, introducing more specialized olive oil blends and possibly exploring other olive oil-based products that resonate with Japanese tastes and preferences.
You never know, maybe something with a hint of yuzu or matcha? It's all about adapting and blending in, right?
Ultimately, we aspire to become a trusted and preferred choice for quality olive oil among Japanese consumers, offering them not just a product, but a delightful culinary experience that elevates their everyday cooking.

Changing the topic a bit, what do you like about Japanese food?

Oh, Japanese food is just amazing, isn't it? One thing I really love is the attention to detail in every dish. Whether it's sushi, ramen, or tempura, you can tell that a lot of care and craftsmanship goes into preparing each meal.
I also appreciate the balance of flavors and textures in Japanese cuisine. The way they combine sweet, salty, sour, and umami flavors in one dish is just mind-blowing!
And let's not forget about the amazing street food - takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and taiyaki are just a few of my favorites! And Yakitori is indeed delicious! There's something so satisfying about those skewers of grilled chicken, glazed with that perfect blend of sweet and savory tare sauce. The smoky aroma, the juicy meat, and the charred edges make it such a flavorful treat.

Please let us know your plans for your next visit to Japan.

Absolutely! I'm always thrilled to dive deeper into Japan's captivating culture, vibrant cities, and amazing culinary scene. Before Foodex 2025 rolls around in March, I plan to make a couple more trips to Japan to further explore and understand the olive oil industry there.
I intend to meet with local distributors, retailers, and wholesalers to explore potential partnerships and distribution opportunities. Additionally, I aim to collect feedback from consumers, retailers, and partners to understand their perceptions, preferences, and suggestions for our olive oils.
It would also be fantastic to engage with chefs, food bloggers, and influencers in the Japanese culinary scene to showcase the versatility and quality of our olive oils.
I'm especially keen on immersing myself in regional cuisines and possibly even taking a cooking class to master some authentic Japanese dishes. Who knows, I might come back as a sushi-making pro!
Japan has so much to offer, and I'm all in to explore more and soak in the experience. Can't wait!