Truc Lam

Over the past decade, big food industry players have implemented new growing, processing and distribution methods to meet national food safety standards

Vietnamese consumers are very concerned about food safety. In recent years, media reports have highlighted topics such as environmental pollution, food tainted with chemicals or antibiotics, and foods of unknown origins. In a country with a population of over 80 million people in which spending on food and drinks accounts for up to 40% of people’s total budget, the mission to monitor the flow of safe foods is a challenge. The latest statistics show there are 424 supermarkets, 23 malls and nearly 800,000 traditional markets and small shops in Vietnam. Customers find it hard to identify

Aware of consumers’ concerns, for more than the last decade, big players in the food industry have implemented new projects in growing, processing and distributing foods to meet national food safety standards. For meat, Vissan, Ha Long and Cau Tre have been major players for years. However, the average consumer still buys fresh vegetables, fresh meat and chicken eggs from the local market. Markets mostly cater to personal and household business units. Meeting the demands of big orders from enterprises, restaurants and hotels and satisfying millions of housewives gives many enterprises the opportunity to make money.

It’s quite easy to purchase foods accredited for food safety such as meat and sausages by Duc Viet, vegetables and fruits from Hieu Phat or clean vegetables from Dalat. These are sold in supermarkets nationwide. However, there are still tens of thousands of traditional markets that supply thousands of tons of food each day and exert a direct impact on people’s health. Food safety concerns are even mentioned in National Assembly plenums and in seminars by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Commerce and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, etc.

The safe food industry remains unable to fully meet the demands of society due to economies of scale. To produce safe pork, fish or prawns free from antibiotic residues, a business must invest twice as much as it normally does. Heavy abuse of industrial foods in the meat-rearing industry and excessive use of pesticides in vegetable and fruit production are prevalent. Producing clean foods without weight-gaining drugs and pesticides requires modern techniques and results in higher selling prices and less attractive-looking produce. It is not difficult to find supermarkets and internet sites advertising clean agricultural products grown using aquarium or microbiological technologies. These include home-made products that range from bean sprouts to confections to free-range chickens to home-made yogurt. These businesses’ growing popularity shows people’s concerns about their daily meals.

According to new forecasts by the Euromonitor International think-tank, consumption of foods and drinks  in Vietnam is expected to grow by an average of 11.4% per annum between 2014 and 2018, far surpassing all other sectors of the economy.

Once the path to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is unwinding, the food industry and other sectors in Vietnam must be ready to seek new directions. The state should also consider centralising its monitoring of food to avoid overlapping control like at present. Some businesses suggest that the government research the model of the US Food and Drugs Association (FDA) to apply to Vietnam so that ensuring the quality of daily meals in Vietnamese households would be easier and more efficient.