Young fish sauce entrepreneur enjoys sweet taste of success

December 28, 2020 - 10:27
A young man in Thanh Hoá Province decided to return home after studying and working abroad to develop a traditional product, fish sauce.


Nguyễn Văn Các checking his fish sauce. VNA/VNS Photo Hoa Mai

THANH HOÁ – A young man in Thanh Hoá Province decided to return home after studying and working abroad to develop a traditional product, fish sauce.

After graduating from the economics faculty of Tokyo University, Nguyễn Văn Các refused lucrative job offers in Japan to return home to Hoằng Phụ Commune of Hoằng Hoá District.

As he was born and raised in the commune with a tradition of making nước nắm (fish sauce) for more than 100 years, Các decided to bring his knowledge from Japan home to realise his dream of developing a brand name for Khúc Phụ fish sauce.

He wanted to make sure Khúc Phụ fish sauce was on every diner table in Việt Nam.

“I was admitted to the economics faculty at Tokyo University in 2010,” Các said.

“Two years later, I was recruited as a manager at a big restaurant with a salary of US$3,000 per month,” he said.

“My family tradition has four generations of fish sauce makers so during the years studying and working in Japan, the taste of my homeland's fish sauce was deeply ingrained in my thoughts,” he said.

At that time, the traditional fish sauce makers had fallen in difficulties because they could not compete with industrially produced fish sauces.

Many households had to give up their jobs, but Các said he always encouraged the family to stick with their father's traditional profession at any cost.

After five years of studying in Japan, Các decided to return home to start his business.

Changing the traditional way of making fish sauce but retaining the soul of homemade sauce was his greatest challenge.

To understand what consumers want out of traditional fish sauce, Các devoured documents, carried out market surveys and visited many traditional fish sauce workshops in Nha Trang and Phú Quốc which are famous for traditional fish sauce for hundreds of years.

After his research, Các started to dive into the business.

“I knew that to make the product reach out in the market, I could not produce in small scale but had to set up a company that was a legal basis to bring my product into the competitive market,” Các said.

He established Khuê Các Ltd., Company which marked an important milestone in the transition from small production to large-scale production and a stable consumption market.

He invested dozens of billions of đồng into a workshop with modern and hygiene production lines and warehouse.

He named the fish sauce Bà Hoan (Madam Hoan) after his great-grandmother.

“Hoằng Phụ Commune has about 300 households making fish sauce. To make my family's fish sauce different, my family and I decided to use the name of the first great-grandmother to name the fish sauce,” Các said.

At present, his workshop uses about 200 tonnes of fish and 100 tonnes of salt to produce 200,000 litres of fish sauce and 120 tonnes of shrimp paste every year.

With the average price of VNĐ100,000 (US$4.3) per litre of fish sauce, he gained a yearly profit of VNĐ3-5 billion (US$130,000 - 216,000).

To achieve today's success, the young man has faced ups and downs when trying to maintain the family's traditional profession.

In a time when consumers have many choices of fish sauce for daily meals, product quality must be the top priority and ensure cleanliness, purity and additive-free, he said.

Making every drop of Bà Hoan fish sauce is a strict process.

The first step of fish selection is vital to the taste.

The fish must be fresh as the fresher they are, the better the fish sauce will taste.

Bà Hoan fish sauce is made from anchovies and two other kinds of fish, while the salt used is clean and dry.

Natural fish decomposition takes between 12 and 36 months, depending on the type of fish.

When the fish is absolutely decomposed, the mixture must be stirred to make the fish sauce fully ripe, especially on sunny days. Then the fish paste is filtered to get the fish sauce. A good fish sauce must be clear and brown with a sweet fragrance of protein, Cá said.

Currently, Bà Hoan Fish Sauce is sold in 70 supermarkets nationwide.

Tết or Lunar New Year 2021 is approaching, so the demand for fish sauce has increased dramatically.

A month ago, orders from provinces nationwide came in a rush, meaning the workshop was at full capacity, Các said.

“I plan to produce a million litres of fish sauce per year in next three years,” Các said.

At present, Các is completing procedures to get One Commune, One Product (OCOP) certification for Bà Hoan Fish Sauce.

Hoàng Phụ Commune has 300 households making fish sauce, but only Các has made a brand name for his product. – VNS