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Seasoning maker goes from rags to riches

Update: April, 07/2013 - 04:08
Quality first: Huynh Van Be (middle) and his employees at their seasoning factory. Their product has been recognised as a "Vietnamese product of high quality". — VNS Photos Tran Trong Trung

A previously poor man who built up his seasoning business from scratch is now helping those less fortunate. Tran Trong Trung reports

Sixty-four-year-old Huynh Van Be is well known across the southern province of Dong Thap for his famous seasoning.

He was the pioneer who brought white salt from coastal regions to Dong Thap to process, and set up the successful "Ngoc Yen" brand name in his home town of Thanh B́nh.

The main ingredients for processing his seasoning are sea salt, sugar, garlic, chilli and monosodium glutamate.

His delicious seasoning has been praised by many consumers, particularly when sprinkled over fruit.

Each year, his company sells hundreds of tonnes of seasoning, earning a profit of more than VND1 billion (about US$47,600).

He has recently invested over VND700 million to expand and upgrade his processing plant and equip it with modern machinery to improve quality and increase production to more than 1.2 tonnes per day.

But it wasn't all plain sailing. Be and his family went through years of hardship struggling with the ups and downs of life, and even faced bankruptcy at one point.

"I found myself in this job by chance," he recalls. "In 1998, I tried my hand at raising quails, but I was inexperienced and ended up losing 5,000 birds. That left me with a debt of over VND200 million so we had to sell the house.

"We were on our last legs when my sister in Tay Ninh Province called and suggested I go and make seasoning with her."

While Be worked with his sister and gradually learned the trade, his wife and child took the streets of HCM City to sell the seasoning. Sometimes they were chased away by locals who felt they were intruding and splashed water on the seasoning, leaving the mother and daughter in tears.

But Be refused to give in and promised himself that one day, he would be a success.

He looked for ways to improve the quality of the seasoning, and finally settled on a recipe.

"The only way my product was going to survive was if it was better than the competition. Only then would I find the customers I needed to expand."

Gradually, shops, groceries and fruit markets began to stock his products.

"My wife delivered a dozen kilos a day and at last we felt so happy."

Many stores began to buy in bulk, and it wasn't long before Be's seasoning was available for wholesale in HCM City markets.

After six years of efforts to develop the business in Tay Ninh and HCM City, he decided he had accumulated enough capital and experience to return home and open a plant in Dong Thap.

In 2006, Be opened his own processing facility and named it Ngoc Yen, and started the website www.muoisayngocyen.vn. Since then, their lives have turned a new page.

High achiever: Huynh Van Be shows off some of his seasonings. He is also helping the underpriviledged.

At first, they produced 30-50kg of seasoning each day.

They then expanded production, equipping the plant with modern equipment such as stainless steel ovens, mixers and 10 exposure frames in accordance with Ministry of Health's standards.

His seasoning has been recognised by the Viet Nam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) as a "Vietnamese product of high quality".

"Over the last five years, production has grown from 40 tonnes in 2007 to 400 tonnes last year. Obviously, the quality and value for money win over customers. I'm very excited because I didn't expect it would be so successful," he says.

His plant now employs 25 local workers, with monthly incomes between VND3.6-5 million each.

Be received the Golden Lotus Cup from VUSTA which voted it the "famous domestic and international brand name" in August 2011.

In September last year, the Viet Nam Food Science and Technology Association and the Viet Nam Food Standards Commission bestowed the title "Vietnamese food for Vietnamese health" on Ngoc Yen seasoning.

Be was granted awards from the Viet Nam Farmers Association, the Viet Nam Business Association and the Dong Thap People's Committee.

Now Be has secured a future for his family, he undertakes a lot of charitable work, spending hundreds of millions of dong each year on social housing and local infrastructure, while taking the time to visit, share and encourage those less fortunate than him.

He has so far contributed over a billion dong to help the poor of Thanh B́nh.

Be is currently collaborating with local donors and leaders of Tran Van Nang High School and Thanh B́nh 1 High School to provide free meals for poor students in the two schools.

"As I have suffered from poverty and hardship, I understand others misery. I am 64 years old now, and if I wait until I become richer to help them, how long will that take? I try to help them based on my ability. I've been doing this work for about five years, and we spent a record VND200 million last year. This year I will spend more."

Provincial People's Committee Chairman Le Minh Hoan commented: "From a poor peasant, with a lot of energy and a strong spirit, he has built a reputable establishment, creating a brand name in the market and jobs for local workers.

"Be is one of the most beautiful lotuses in our Dong Thap – the land of lotus!"

Hoan says Be has proved that anyone, if there is a will, can be a success. — VNS

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