Many Vietnamese business owners have taken breakthrough steps to improve the quality and increase the brand value of Vietnamese goods. It is the story of turning easily found, even worthless materials such as grass, bamboo, areca leaves, etc into high-value products.
A series of export products made from grass, bamboo, areca leaves, or lotus leaves have been bringing an income of hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, they are also creating jobs for thousands of people. These are only low-value materials, even left wild in alum-contaminated fields but became export products thanks to the creative ideas of Vietnamese businesses.
The “life-change” of grass
Halfway around the Earth, on the banquet table at some luxury restaurants in Germany, Vietnamese branded grass straws are placed next to porcelain plates and crystal glasses. These straws are made from the grass grown in alum-contaminated fields in Vietnam.
“It can be seen as the life-changing of the grass. A very small product but in the global commercial playground, it has its place and great economic value.” – said Mr. Nguyen Minh Giang, General Director of ECO LIFE, a manufacturer of grass straws.
Vietnamese grass straws are exported to many international markets. (Source: Internet)
Seeing the global trend toward green consumption to protect the environment, in 2019, Mr. Giang decided to give up his job as a computer engineer and switch to investing in making grass straws. The characteristic of this grass is that it only grows in alum soils. The saltier the soil is, the better it will grow. Farmers also do not waste many resources to take care of this grass. For this reason, the value of the grass is not high and it is mainly sold to some handicraft establishments.
However, from Mr. Giang’s perspective, the grass body is something that can make good money if we know how to produce export-quality straws. Because foreign markets love environmentally friendly products.
“The market is increasingly interested in single-use straws, which do not harm nature to replace plastic straws. So, it is advantageous to introduce and offer grass straws for sale. To get into the tough markets as well as the chain system of big restaurants in Europe, we have to make a difference” – said Mr. Giang.
The difference that Mr. Giang mentioned is food safety and professionalism from packaging, image to product quality, and production process. Besides, grass straws must be able to stand hot temperatures up to 180 degrees Celsius and cold temperatures at minus 15 degrees Celsius without cracking, freezing, or mold. Meeting these strict conditions, Vietnamese brand straws have entered into big restaurant systems in the UK, Germany, and France in large quantities.
Mr. Giang added that currently, the company receives investment capital to standardize the production process towards automation. Besides, the company also works with scientists to create a new grass variety that can shorten planting time and improve quality. Thereby, they can bring many jobs and incomes to farmers, as well as take advantage of the uninhibited salty alum land to create high economic value.
“As our calculation, if we create a good variety to increase the productivity, farmers will earn 300 million VND per hectare of land” – Mr. Giang shared.
Picking grass to make grass straws. (Source: Internet)
Unique products made from bamboo and areca leaves
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, consignments of bamboo straws branded as Green Leaf by Hoi An Development Co., Ltd. (HCM City) are stably ordered by customers in Germany, France, the Netherlands, etc. Mr. Ly Chinh Nghia – Founder of the Green Leaf, revealed that the company’s products have become a familiar commodity in resorts, restaurants, cafes, etc in many countries such as Choose system, Wahi (USA); Hafen Flensburg Hotel (Germany), Projektkontor GmbH (Germany).
Not only bamboo straws, but Green Leaf also makes unique household items such as handbags, plates from areca sheath, dried banana leaves, lotus leaves, etc. The more unique thing is that the handbag item has a light lotus fragrance. Customers are easily attracted to the areca plates that are very delicate, easy to store, and have a long shelf life.
Mr. Nghia said that these products are completely natural, not chemically treated or interfered with chemicals.
“The company’s purpose is to aim for products without preservatives throughout the production and transportation process. Besides, we head to respect nature and minimize activities that damage the environment. For example, we use bamboo to make straws and grow more bamboo and grass to protect the environment sustainably” Mr. Nghia said.
An establishment producing bamboo straws in Dong Nai province. (Source: Internet)
It took hundreds of millions of “fees” to succeed
Another young man, Le Duy Toan, Director of Duy Anh Food Import and Export Co., Ltd., also succeeded in producing rice straws and exporting them to 17 countries. However, it was not easy at the start. Products were constantly defective, the straw was not straight, or after being soaked in water for a while, it was soft and then cracked.
After many trials, Toan found that he must start from raw materials, not only at the production stage. So he bought many types of rice for testing. Persist in trying one by one but still not succeeding. “Finally, I discovered that it is necessary to combine different types of rice with different characteristics such as soft, flexible, hard, etc, to make rice straws following the requirements” – Toan told.
Having also experienced the difficulty of starting a business, Mr. Nguyen Minh Giang, General Director of ECO LIFE, said that designing a straw of purely natural origin is not easy. He and his colleagues lost hundreds of millions when the goods were defective.
“After many failures, we have successfully built a standard process for manufacturing grass straws. In particular, the most important factor is heat drying to ensure that the straw can withstand the high to low-temperature range without cracking and reduce the loss rate of products, ” Mr. Giang said.
Handicrafts are exported to more than 160 markets, earning billions of dollars
In the context of the complicated COVID-19 pandemic, the export turnover of Vietnamese handicraft products has increased quite sharply. According to the Department of Economic Cooperation and Rural Development, the export growth in the past years has been quite high with an average of about 10%/year. For example, in 2019, the export turnover of handicrafts alone reached 2.35 billion USD.
Especially, in the first seven months of 2020, the export turnover of ceramic products still reached 309 million USD, up 3.4% compared to the same period in 2019. Products from rattan, bamboo, reed; handmade textiles, and embroidery products also reached 250 million USD and 90 million USD, up 11% compared to the same period in the previous year.
Currently, Vietnam’s handicrafts are available in 163 countries and territories, with the main export markets being the United States, Japan, and Europe. Exported handicrafts are quite diverse such as bags, suitcases, hats, toys, rattan products, bamboo, reed, carpets, etc. In addition, a lot of gifts and fashion items have been exported on the spot by serving the shopping needs of foreign tourists to Vietnam.