Last October, SeafoodSource reported that Vietnamese entrepreneur and seafood producer Pham Thi Dieu Hien was constructing a huge new factory to produce a wide range of value-added seafood products. The factory, which has now been built and is equipped with imported machinery costing USD 30 million, according to one account, is standing idle.

However, this does not mean that Madame Hien, president and CEO of Binh An Seafood Joint Stock Co. (Bianfishco), one of Vietnam’s top 10 pangasius processors, with an annual turnover of about USD 200 million, has lost her appetite to diversify into new products. Far from it — she has just opened yet another pangasius processing plant, but this time one with a difference.

The new factory, which started production at the end of May, was officially opened on 30 June with the Hollywood style razzmatazz for which Madame Hien has become famous. (She even commissioned a new song for the opening, which was performed by Vietnam’s leading pop group.) It is effectively a canning plant for a collagen energy drink produced using the filleting off-cuts from the original pangasius processing plant.

Two fruit flavored drinks are being produced — one containing kiwi fruit juice and the other cherry — in 1000-mililiter color-printed aluminum cans, similar to the ones used for Coca Cola or Pepsi. The factory is producing 500 cans per shift, or one every minute of the working day. The beverage is already on the shelves of Vietnamese supermarkets such as the Maximark chain, where it is being sold for around VND 13,500 (about USD 0.60) per can.

The cans, which are manufactured in Vietnam, are branded Binh An and carry the company’s golden Q quality mark that has been used for all Bianfishco seafood products for the past two years. 

It is expected that the new product will be exported to Japan and China, where collagen drinks are very popular with women who believe that they smooth out wrinkles in their skin if consumed regularly. Collagen drinks are claimed to stimulate the collagen making mechanism in the body, “which will give the skin a plumper, younger look and feel by reducing the appearance of wrinkles and sagging.”

In addition to the collagen extracted from the trimmings from the pangasius-filleting operation, the Binh An drink contains vitamin C, taurine and essential amino acids “proven to help rejuvenate the skin and provide healthier more beautiful hair.” These ingredients are imported from France and the word “Paris” features prominently on the cans.

Not surprisingly, Bianfishco will not reveal any details of the production process, which was developed with the help of the Seafood University of Nha Trang. But collagen drinks are being manufactured in Japan and China where anti-ageing treatments are very big business. 

Such treatments inevitably find their way into the USA and Europe — initially aimed at the Asian populations in those countries — and already the Binh An drink has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so the gate to that huge market stands open.

Finance to build and equip the new factory was provided by a leading bank based in Hanoi, the Habu Bank, and from a Danish investment group. (The Danish government has pumped a lot of aid money into the Vietnamese seafood industry through its Danida program.)

This is an exciting development. Anti-ageing treatments generate huge revenues in both the Western world as well as in Asia. And if a collagen drink manufactured from pangasius off-cuts proves to be a success, then this will open up a whole new, and very lucrative, market for a fish that has been pilloried on all sides.

As Madame Hien said in her address at the factory opening, only 30 percent of the pangasius produced in Vietnam ends up as the trimmed IQF boneless, skinless fillets that are exported around the world. Producers need to find ways of using the remaining 70 percent in order to make their businesses successful. It seems that Madam Hien is well on the way to doing just that.  

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