Herbal drink manufacturer turns threats into opportunities amid pandemic

By May Pham    August 5, 2021 | 12:30 am PT
To meet increasing demand for resistance F&B during the Covid-19 pandemic, the CEO of ISITO has hastened research to successfully produce new herbal drink lines.

After two days of trial sales on Facebook, Hetox branded herbal drinks, produced by ISITO, were overloaded with orders. The product launch of the essence of lettuce and noni juice brought Truong The Tien, CEO of ISITO, and his colleagues a revenue of VND200 million, a payoff for many ups and downs.

CEO 8x bền bỉ chinh phục thảo dược suốt 11 năm. Ảnh: NVCC.

Truong The Tien, CEO of ISITO. Photo by ISITO.

Start from scratch

While studying at Saigon University, Tien realized his strengths, along with his passion for agriculture and high-end production processes related to medicinal herbs. However, after graduation, the 8x businessman entered a technological company to start his career.

With effort, Tien was promoted to deputy director, but that was not the path he wanted to take. The idea of starting a business was always in his mind.

In early 2011, Tien and two friends built their own business by selling stevia for Hue royal tea and quickly became the suppliers for many partners. The three associates decided to quit their jobs and went back to their hometown to expand the raw material area despite disapproval from their families. They sold all their furniture to afford renting land, seeds and equipment for automatic irrigation.

In 2014, after three years of planting, an area of 50 hectares covered in medicinal herbs got struck by a historic flood in Thanh Hoa close to harvest time.

"I was broke and faced with enormous stress. I saw a whole area of raw materials being submerged in water. Though strong, I couldn't hold back the tears. I was 27 that year, having to bear a debt of more than VND7 billion," the CEO recalled.

The farmers, on the other hand, helped him recover by actively reducing the rent and not receiving wages. Dutch and Chinese partners shared his difficulties by liquidating the contract, and not collecting the nearly VND3 billion capital that they sponsored. After this failure, Tien and his colleagues moved to Ho Chi Minh City to restart their careers.

Turning risks into opportunities

After many failures, Tien persisted in pursuing his chosen path while his two friends returned to their hometowns. Achievement finally came to him in 2018, when ISITO Food Co., Ltd was established. Explaining the name ISITO, Tien said it means "love smoothies", because the company specializes in producing fruit and vegetable powders.

The first product that hit the market was the eco-friendly straw brand Vistraws.

Unlike plastic straws, vegetable straws soften after about 30 minutes in warm water, but retain their structure and hardness to be used for the next 2-6 hours. The product only dissolves when it is continuously immersed in water after 30 hours.

Each straw is used once, has a shelf life up to 18 months from the date of manufacture, and is easy to decompose without a harmful impact on the environment. This line of straws has been requested by 38 countries and territories for trade and cooperation, and initially exported across the European market (the Netherlands and U.K.).

However, at the peak of its development, the European market was closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The project was temporarily put on hold.

With both domestic and international markets fluctuating during the pandemic, Tien forced himself to find a way to turn the risks into opportunities. Realizing the need for healthcare products, the CEO of ISITO focused on research on a 100 percent herbal drink line.

"I tried many times and failed for 11 years," he said. However, a strong belief in success kept him going. He believed this would be a breakthrough for businesses to dominate the domestic market and soon export a large quantity.

In the last six years, by doing research, production and commercialization of products from noni fruit, Tien discovered organic acid compounds in noni fruit not only create a delicious sour taste but also create an environment that protects the product from being damaged by microorganisms and mold. These beneficial acids prevent the absorption of sugar in the body, lowering the risk of obesity, diabetes and some stomach diseases.

"I chose two ingredients for production, including noni fruit and lettuce essences. The goal is for people to soon have more opportunities to improve their resistance by "Made in Vietnam" products.

Tien has a 15 hectare raw material plot of Noni certified organic by the USDA and EU, and five hectares of lettuce, plus natural materials from the northwest mountains, offering the highest-quality products.

Following dietary trends, weight loss and diabetes patients need, he mixed the delicious sourness from the essence of noni fruit and lettuce with the sweetness from the essence of stevia. Hetox branded drink also feature the natural aroma from high-grade fruit essences imported from a reputable factory in France.

Right after successful production, Tien sent 500 gifts of gratitude to friends and customers through his personal Facebook page. After only two days, customers had placed orders of over VND200 million. The CEO also received dozens of offers for exclusive processing, re-transfer of the production process with a value of tens of billions of dong, but he refused.

ISITO's drinking water output currently reaches 1,800 x 50ml boxes per day, with a maximum total revenue of VND7.5 billion per month. Tien is also applying digital transformation to his business model during the pandemic. "I decided to transform my business model from traditional offline sales to online. I built a dedicated sales mobile app for collaborators through the form of dropship. This helps control inventory, exploiting extremely large human resources on social networks like: KOLs, group admins, and students," he said.

After three years of continuous investment in research, construction of farms and factories, ISITO operates a 15-hectare noni organic farm, a five-hectare lettuce farm and two factories in Ho Chi Minh City with a total area of more than 3,000 square meters; with 45 employees. Total revenue in 2020 reached more than VND30 billion with typical product lines like kale noodles, celery powder, lettuce powder and Vistraws.

In the next three years, Tien hopes Hetox herbal essence brands, including: Lettuce essence, Noni fruit essence, herbal coffee essence, elery essence and herbal hair care essence would access over 1 million users in the domestic market.

The CEO will open branches in developed countries like Singapore, South Korea, Germany and the U.S., affirming the sustainable value of Vietnamese herbs in the international market.

Recently, ISITO contributed 10,000 boxes of vegetable powder with a value of VND1.5 billion and 2,000 boxes of Hetox herbal essence to the Covid front lines, valued at VND320 million. The company also donated food to the poor with a total support package of VND1.9 billion.

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