Women check packages in the mushroom section at a supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
Several supermarkets in Ho Chi Minh City camouflage dubious dried foods from China with official labels and raise their prices.
Dried dates, snow mushrooms and shiitake in the supermarkets are labeled as produced in Vietnam and packed by businesses in Ho Chi Minh City, and they carry more expensive price tags than similar products at Binh Tay market in the city’s outlying District 6.
But those businesses told a Tuoi Tre undercover reporter that the supermarket items actually come from Binh Tay, known for wholesaling dry foods from China.
Packing workers at an address listed on a snow fungus pack at a large supermarket in Phu Nhuan District said the products were from China. They said the same for the shiitakes sold at various supermarkets.
Three workers and an accountant present at the time said the company buys large amounts of mushrooms and other dry foods from Binh Tay market and repacks them when there are orders.
Le Hoang Mong Ngoc, director of Vietnamese Mushroom Biotechnology JSC in the city, said Vietnam does not produce snow mushrooms.
Ngoc said Vietnam has produced some shiitake, but not much.
Vietnamese shiitake is very small, about the size of the tip of the little finger, and is fragrant, so the bigger kinds with dots on the top “are Chinese for sure,” she told Tuoi Tre.
She estimated that Vietnam produces only enough shiitake for up to 10 percent of demand at shops selling the mushroom at traditional markets.
But she said consumers can feel safe using wood ear, which is found in abundance in Vietnam and is also exported.
The packers were also packing chicken soup ingredients sold at supermarkets. “There’re many things in the pack, but only the dry cassava is Vietnamese and the rest is of China,” a worker said.
Many labels leave out the origins of the ingredients.
A staff member at a packing business for products at a supermarket in Tan Binh District said: “Although we don’t clarify that the products have Chinese origin, we’d answer truthfully when anyone asks.”
The staff said the ingredients come from both Vietnam and China but the latter is more usually the case.
Many consumers said they rerely buy mushrooms at the market but rely on supermarkets because they are confident of the origin of the products there.
One consumer named Le Tran Hoang Nguyen said she only buys mushrooms from supermarkets. “They have the origins',names and addresses of the producers.”
Nguyen said for the sake of what she believes is food safety, she is willing to pay high prices.
The supply chain has exactly what she needs as dried Chinese dates at supermarkets are priced VND110,000 a kilogram while the same ones are retailed at VND70,000 a kilogram at Binh Tay market, meaning they are sold cheaper for wholesale buyers.
Snow mushrooms meanwhile cost from VND270,000 a kilogram to more than VND400,000.
Packers said they don’t have regular business relationships with supermarkets like the providers of other products, but the supermarkets contact them when they are in need and payments are made on delivery.
A market manager in the city told Tuoi Tre anonymously that labeling Chinese products as Vietnamese is scamming consumers. “Not mentioning the origin is also a violation in labeling.”
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