Pangasius producer shows the way forward for Vietnamese industry

Published on
January 19, 2016

As the Vietnamese pangasius industry struggles to overcome the latest scandal to besmirch the reputation of its products, particularly in continental Europe, one independent producer is showing what can be done to improve the image of this low priced but much maligned fish.

Ngoc Ha Co Ltd has just launched an informative website about its pangasius farms and factory, and is taking what has been described as a “progressive step towards good marketing and honorable products.”

Situated on the Coconut Island of Ben Tre south of Ho Chi Minh City at the gateway to the Mekong Delta, the aptly named Ngoc Ha – Ngco Ha means Jade River in Vietnamese, which refers to a poetic or mystic name for the Mekong – has a fully integrated production system from egg to final product. It has created a brand called “True Panga” and instituted a strict code of practice for its products which importers can rely on.

The family-owned company sets great store by its “naturalness”. Said vice director Nguyen Thi Mui Thuy, niece of the owner and who runs the factory and the sales operation: “We are living close to nature in our home in the Mekong Delta. Pangasius is part of this natural lifestyle. Our family raises this fish completely integrated in natural surroundings of the Coconut Island Ben Tre.

“Most of the consumers who enjoy pangasius have lost this closeness to nature and for that reason it is difficult for them to understand about our fish and its conditions. Therefore we give them our True Panga promise.

“We give them the best we have – a true piece of nature from our Mekong home. All who enjoy pangasius should have this promise.”
The fact that Ngco Ha farms 30,000 metric tons of pangasius in “the most beautiful garden surroundings near the Mekong River” won’t necessarily appeal to hard-nosed importers looking to buy the fish at the cheapest possible price.

However the fact that the farming operation has been certified by both Global GAP and ASC should appeal to retailers wanting to sell sustainable seafood to their customers. That the fish are brought live to the factory, which has been BRC (British Retail Consortium) and IFS (International Food Standard) approved, and are processed and deep frozen within two hours, should also appeal.

It would seem that this is definitely the case. Ngco Ha has secured a contract to supply IQF pangasius fillets to a major European supermarket chain which prides itself on the quality of the seafood it sells and at very competitive prices

Naturally Ngoc Ha’s production and marketing programs are designed to promote and sell its own products, but the company’s approach will rub off on other producers if it earns the company good business.

There is no doubt that the pangasius industry in Vietnam desperately needs to upgrade its practices and processing standards. In recent years it has lurched from crisis to crisis.

It began when the WWF sent a television crew undercover to Vietnam to do a hatchet job on its pangasius industry in March 2011 – the subsequent program was shown on German television called “The Pangasius Lie” – to the recent added water scandal.

There have been suggestions in the past that the Vietnamese authorities should mount a generic campaign to promote pangasius, particularly in its major markets – the United States and the European Union.

Earlier this month, Duong Ngoc Minh, deputy chairman of the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) called on the Vietnamese government to “institute policies on advertising pangasius products at home and in foreign markets to promote consumption.”

So far there has been no response to these requests and export sales are continuing to slump, while the uptake by the domestic market remains insignificant accounting for a mere 5 percent of pangasius sales.

Minh also called on the government to go ahead with the introduction of Decree 36 to limit the water content of frozen pangasius fillets which was postponed at the behest of the industry.

According to Minh, VASEP is seeking stable and sustainable development of pangasius for the future. Whether VASEP will be able to achieve this is open to question. It may be left to individual companies such as Ngco Ha to show the way forward and to hope that other companies follow its example.

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