Vietnamese produce struggles to enter local supermarkets

February 24, 2016 | 02:50 am PT
Imported fruits have become increasingly prevalent on supermarket shelves, although their retail price is three times to five times higher than that of domestic produce.

Walking down the aisles of any supermarket in Hanoi, consumers will find the produce section packed with New Zealand kiwis, Australia grapes and America apples, while locally produced fruits are nowhere to be seen, even if the produce is currently in season in Vietnam.

Local grocery stores are turning away from Vietnamese farmers by buying substantial amounts of organic produce from abroad, however they have reasons for doing so.

“Farmers mainly sell fruits to wholesalers. They are not used to marketing their products to supermarkets in the city as well as dealing with food safety and sanitation certificates,” said Hoang The Loc, owner of an agricultural cooperative on the outskirts of Hanoi.

Farmers are normally dependent on merchant wholesalers who purchase products directly from the farm, then sell them to grocery stores or supermarkets.

Farmers sell directly to wholesales because that helps reduce the amount of labor that farmers have to devote to direct marketing and other tasks such as cleaning, processing and delivering the fruit to buyers.

“The lack of food safety certifications, packing and labeling standards has prevented domestic fruits coming into grocery stores and supermarkets” said Vu Vinh Phuc, chairman of the Hanoi Association of Supermarkets.

Supermarkets require producers to meet certain process standards and food safety requirements. Fruits and vegetables are rejected because they are misshapen or discoloured. Meanwhile farm-grown fruits are barely packaged, rarely cold-stored, and infrequently branded.

Supermarkets usually make deals with distributors who can supply in large volume.

“Farmers should come together and chose one person as their legal representative. We will sign a contract with that person,” said Vu Thi Hau, deputy general director of FiviMart.

She added that her company sent people to the northern province of Bac Giang when Luc Ngan lychees were heading for a bumper harvest. Yet they failed to convince farmers there to appoint a person to be in charge of delivering the fruit and making a contract with the company.

Shopping habits of local consumers have also contributed to making domestic produce absent from supermarket shelves. They often prefer buying farm-fresh produce at open-air markets.

“I usually buy lychee, longan, custard apple, mango and banana and other Vietnamese fruits at the outdoor markets near my house. The price is cheaper. Fruits are fresher. And I would save the money spent on parking my motorbike” said Nguyen Thu Hai, a local shopper.

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