Processed food choices still limited

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Vietnamese people are buying more processed food than ever but the choices available at the store seem to be as limited as they were decades ago.

Many food processing companies blame the lack of refrigeration in the distribution networks and retail outlets for their unwillingness to turn out new products.

Going back a few decades, the only options in the processed food department were Vietnamese ham, cha gio (spring rolls), lap xuong (Chinese sausage), meat sausages, and some canned items.

Today, it seems nothing much has changed.

The food companies do bring out several new products every year, but there is little to distinguish them from the established lines.

For example, there used to be only one form of cha gio, incorporating pork and wheat flour. Nowadays, there are several varieties, like cha gio with shrimp and pork, and cha gio with seafood, but the taste remains much the same.

Le Thi Thanh Lam, deputy general director of the food processing company SG Fisco, says it's difficult to come up with the sort of processed food that more and more people are looking for.

"Frozen food must be kept refrigerated. But the number of distributors and stores with this capability is still limited, so we are hamstrung in this regard," she says.

The companies point out that they can only sell their products to wholesalers and retailers with sufficient refrigeration, which explains why it's hard to find processed food in the Vietnamese countryside.

Few brands share the spoils

Figures from the General Statistics Office show that Vietnam is currently home to 5,982 food-processing companies.

However, only ten or so of them are household names, for example Vissan, Cau Tre, Sagifood, D&F and SG Fisco.

Then there's the question of taste.

Nguyen Tuan Son, director of Donafood, says building a factory is not the problem.

The trouble in Son's view is that machines cannot produce the delicious food that most Vietnamese people take for granted.

That requires a human touch, and explains why Vietnam produces so few brands of processed food.

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