Abstract: Doing Business in a Fractioned Market: Nestlé in the Ottoman Empire, 1870-1923

Yavuz Koese


This paper examines the marketing strategy that the Swiss Nestlé company (est. 1868) used in the Ottoman Empire from 1870 to 1923. Though Nestlé from its beginnings adopted a coordinated marketing strategy for its regionally and culturally diverse urban markets, it also had to consider local variations and resistance. The Ottoman Empire was unique as a multiethnic and multireligious society that was facing its demise. The reforms which were carried out by the government in order to prevent the disintegration led to an ever-growing ethnic fragmentation. This paper will contemplate the socio-political transformations and the increasing nationalism the Ottoman state had to face. How did Nestlé respond to this complex marketing environment, and did it affect Nestlé's business and to what extent? The study argues that Nestlé's (relative) success and ability to survive the Ottoman state and continue its business in the newly founded Turkish Republic were due a) to its indirect selling method, which enabled the company to integrate gradually all (available) distributors regardless of their ethnicity, b) to its strategy of advertising intensively to all segments of the multilingual/multiethnic society, c) to its eagerness to approach the Ottoman state during wartime, d) to its "neutrality," which made it possible to sell its products to battling parties, and e) to its long-term strategy to integrate itself into the society; a society that was (forcefully) being transformed from a once multiethnic/multicultural into an (almost) homogenous Turkish one.