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Vietnamese coffee - change to grasp opportunities or concede defeat?

Vietnamese coffee - change to grasp opportunities or concede defeat?

A store shelf of coffee imported from Vietnam to the Dutch market.

Vậy chung ta nen lam gì, cải cach gì để phat triển nganh ca phe Viet Nam xuất khẩu? Nhất la trong bối cảnh xung đot Nga va Ukraine đang diễn ra, nhiều cơ hoi vao thị trường EU đang mở rong hơn va thuận lợi hơn.

Why focus on the EU market but not the others?

According to the Import-Export Department (Ministry of Industry and Trade), coffee, one of Vietnam's key export agro-products, is exported mainly to the EU, the USA, and Southeast Asia. The EU in particular is the largest coffee consuming market in the world at the moment, also the largest for Vietnamese coffee as it accounts for more than 16% of the market share.

With the commitment to remove tariff barriers thanks to the EVFTA, Vietnamese coffee holds ample opportunity to expand to markets in the EU thanks to the fact that 93% of tariff lines are now reduced to 0%. The product that benefits the most is processed coffee. The EU has committed to protecting 39 coffee-related geographical indications of Vietnam.

However, in the face of strong competition from other major markets such as Brazil, Colombia, and South America, Vietnamese coffee faces a massive risk of losing market share. If domestic manufacturers cannot become more conscious and adjust their strategies in time, Vietnam’s import and export activities in particular and the economic situation in general will be greatly affected.

Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vietnam's coffee export output in 2021 decreased significantly. The main reason is that the pandemic has led to a shortage of human resources, supply chains were broken, and the agro-product quality did not meet the increasingly strict requirements of consumers in the EU. The situation is forecasted to continue in 2022 because there is still no solution that can be completely resolved these difficult issues.

What needs to be changed?

Changes are never easy, but if Vietnamese businesses want to have a share in this coffee importer market of 3.5 billion euros/year, new and positive movements are essential.

First change: Grow clean coffee

Vietnamese coffee must meet the quality standards. Old-fashioned ways of production are no longer appropriate. To prevent pests and diseases, farmers used to apply a lot of pesticides. However, coffee beans found to contain pesticide residues will not be eligible for export to the EU. All enterprises need to find an alternative to this low-productivity and environment-unfriendly method of production.

For example, Gia Lai Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has raised awareness and mobilized people to produce clean coffee to meet quality standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 22000, VietGAP, and GlobalGAP. One thing to note is that in order to achieve true success in this regard, farmers themselves must have a sense of responsibility and understand the importance of every clean Vietnamese coffee bean - Clean in quality, and clean in prestige.

Second change: Deep processing instead of raw export

Raw products still occupy an enormous portion of Vietnam’s exports, showing the current reality of meager participation in deep processing of the nation’s own coffee beans. In order to have them processed, agents and small businesses will collect raw coffee and then sell it to large domestic and FDI enterprises for preliminary processing and then export, so the value and output have not been maximized.

If businesses do not have a plan to conduct deep processing for Vietnamese coffee beans soon, the export turnover and market share in the EU market will face the risk of a sharp decrease, paving the way for processed coffee from other countries to dominate the market share.

Third change: Create product brands instead of gathering material from agents

The brand makes the prestige, and from it the value of products is elevated. Despite being famous in the coffee world thanks to great quality and output, Vietnam coffee brands remain sparse and faint.

This is because manufacturers do not conduct deep processing themselves and export directly. Processed coffee mainly appears under the names of foreign brands or the purchasing agents, not to mention the name will be once again changed to proceed with the export.

In the short term, this can be a quick and convenient way. However, in the long run Vietnamese coffee will find it difficult to create an adequate reputation, prestige, and brand name. This will surely affect its ability to compete with foreign coffee brands.

Fourth change: Understand consumer behavior at target markets

Every country has its own unique culture and way of life. It’s undeniable that the quality of Vietnamese coffee is world-class, but we must provide the right products to meet the needs of consumers.

Vietnamese were born and raised in the coffee kingdom, so they prefer strong, bitter coffee and love the fresh taste of Robusta when filtered with aluminum phin and added condensed milk. But EU consumers prefer Arabica coffee with a lighter and sour taste. For example, the Dutch prefer hot black coffee without sugar, Cappuccino, Espresso, or Latte Macchiato.

A small example can already show the difference between two groups of consumers, requiring manufacturers to have an overview and further in-depth research if they really want to conquer the market.

Author: Nhu Nguyen

Translated by Samuel Pham

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