Erdoğan Çoban was born to join the Şölen Çikolata team.
His entire childhood was spent in the production facilities of the family chocolate company, before he completed an undergraduate degree in electrical and electronics engineering in Türkiye.
From there, a project management program took him to the United States and with this breadth of education behind him, he returned to the family business, working in many different departments and positions before becoming CEO in 2022.
In this role, he is leading Şölen Çikolata into a shared future, building on the firm foundations that were first established in 1989 and pushing the boundaries of achievement.
It’s already an impressive operation. Every year, 109,000 metric tons of chocolate are produced at its two factories – one in Gaziantep and the other in Istanbul. Known as ‘Türkiye’s Chocolate Factory,’ this smart integrated facility has all the requirements of Industry 4.0, including a smart warehouse, lines for AI and robots.
“Our production area is 120,000 square meters, or the size of 17 football fields. With 62 production lines and more than 450 robots, our plant has a daily capacity of 800,000 kilograms,” Çoban tells The CEO Magazine.
“In 2023, we targeted approximately 30 percent growth in domestic and international sales in dollar terms compared to 2022. Our year-end company turnover target is US$470 million.”
“We differentiate ourselves in the market with our innovative brands and products.”
Even the COVID-19 pandemic had minimal impact on Şölen Çikolata’s steady rise, although Çoban admits many lessons were learned during this unprecedented time. “All companies had similar problems, especially for the supply chain issues,” he says.
The period was therefore a valuable time to reassess its supply chain and work closely with suppliers and customers in order to keep its products on the shelves. “We sacrificed our margins to not lose our markets,” he explains.
Overall, Şölen Çikolata emerged relatively unscathed. “Our category, the confectionery and snacking category, has been growing every year for the last 20 years,” he says. “Even during the pandemic we grew, so that’s one of the luckiest things, I think, for our company.”
Now the world is wising up to its delicious offerings with 70 percent of its business generated by the export market, and just 30 percent local business.
But Çoban sees yet more opportunity overseas, with every region a potential market for Şölen Çikolata. “We differentiate ourselves in the market with our innovative brands and products,” he explains.
He admits that the product, by itself, is not enough to deliver growth in every region. This is where branding comes in.
“If you want to reach the local people, you need to understand what their habits are, what they want, what they like, not only as chocolate consumers but as human beings.”
“In every country, in every region, we differentiate our brands,” he says.
As an example, in Türkiye, it has its Biscolata line, while the same product is sold under a different brand, Amada, in the Middle East.
“We differentiated the brands, because of the target group,” he says. “If you want to reach the local people, you need to understand what their habits are, what they want, what they like – not only as chocolate consumers but as human beings.”
Already one of the largest international markets for Şölen Çikolata, the Middle East is of particular interest, with the company eyeing possible investments in the region and considering plans to open a new factory there next year.
In line with these ambitious expansion plans, Çoban has doubled the strategic targets for the company, aiming for revenue of US$750 million in 2027. To get there, Şölen Çikolata is investing in technology, production facilities, brands and, as a top priority, its employees.
“At Şölen, we are aware that happy employees and a happy working environment contribute to great success,” he says. “That’s why I always listen to my colleagues. We try to create even more comfortable working environments for them.”
Innovation has always played an important role in the company’s success and continues to do so, with Şölen Çikolata upgrading its production in line with Industry 4.0, and working to fully automate its production lines with the latest robotic technology to meet a target of zero defects, while ensuring a top quality product and the greatest possible efficiency.
“At Şölen, we are aware that happy employees and a happy working environment contribute to great success.”
Indeed, food safety is a topic Çoban is incredibly passionate about. He possesses an intense drive to continually raise the bar on this front and a determination to communicate the company’s prowess in this area to its customers.
Şölen Çikolata’s commitment to sustainability is another message he is keen to promote, with the company working hard to reduce its carbon emissions over the next five years.
If the company achieves all of these 2027 goals, Çoban will be satisfied that he has succeeded both on a personal and company level. And by helping his employees to advance simultaneously, he is confident that the company will reap the benefits.
“If everyone succeeds, the company will succeed at the end of the day, and I also will succeed,” he reflects.
After all, his trajectory is deeply intertwined with that of Şölen Çikolata and its people, thanks to a determination to succeed and a shared love of chocolate.