Customers' preference helps Vietnamese foods foray deeper into Thai market

Coffee, cashew and some fruit from Vietnam are tastier, Thai consumers say as Vietnamese foods make inroads into a tough market.

The Tops Market supermarket chain, which has 10 outlets in Bangkok, imports about 500 items from Vietnam, with instant pho and coffee the best selling goods.

"Our imports from Vietnam rise about 10 percent a year. Pho has a similar flavor to Thai traditional noodles therefore it is easily accepted. Vietnamese dragon fruits are sweeter than that of Thailand and thus sell well," Pimjai Navanukroh, director of the chain, said at a recent event.

A Tops Market outlet in Huai Khwang District to the east of central Bangkok sells 100-200 Vietnamese instant noodles packs and 50 kilograms of Vietnamese dragon fruits a day.

"I usually buy Vietnamese foods, especially coffee because of its distinct flavor and reasonable price," said Pumipat Chaisom, a customer at the supermarket.

Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Do Thang Hai said that the export of agriculture and food products to Thailand has seen positive growth in recent years despite strong competition from domestic produce.

However, the number of Vietnamese items in Thai supermarkets has remained limited. Industry insiders say that exporting to Thailand requires patience and perseverance because it takes a long time to negotiate and obtain permits for products that the Thai government has limited imports of, to protect local production.

Nguyen Huynh Phu Lam, director of cashew exporting firm Hai Binh Gia Lai, said that it took eight months for his company to complete all procedures to export its first 10,000 packs of cashew to Thailand.

"It’s a small number, but as Thailand is far ahead of Vietnam in the agriculture industry, this can be considered a success."

Nick Reitmeier, vice president of Central Food Retail, which operates Tops Market, said that number of Vietnamese goods in Thailand has been rising by about 6-8 percent a year in the last four years. He expects the Vietnamese food division in his company to rise by 40-50 percent a year.

"People have told me that Vietnamese dragon fruits and cashew are better than Thai products. Vietnam has good products, what’s important is marketing it so more people know about them," Reitmeier said.

Paul Le, vice president of Central Groups’ export-import division in Vietnam, said that to increase exports to Thailand, Vietnamese firms need to maintain the originality of their products, as well as improve packaging, like adding Thai description, for instance.

Vietnam’s exports to Thailand in the first seven months of 2019 rose 1.5 percent year-on-year to $3.2 billion, according to Vietnam Customs.

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