The founders put everything on the line, even their parents’ mortgage, to bet on a small green vegetable
From everyday meals to a simple yet refreshing glass of pennywort juice, food sanitation has always been a major issue in Vietnam. Now, young innovators are seeking ways to bring clean food to the country’s kitchen tables.
At a vast pennywort farm in Ho Chi Minh City, two young entrepreneurs develop clean and safe veggie powders.
It took founders Nguyen Hong Bac and Nguyen Kong Tra two years of sweat and elbow grease to plan and develop their specialized blend, but they believe their product will make waves in the local market.
Stepping into the unknown
Bac and Tra first met at an agricultural and farming workshop, where they decided to put their passion for agriculture to the test by launching their company.
It was not long, however, until the two realized that they were in way over their heads.
Bac and Tra previously worked as a mechanic while Tra was an accounting and finance major. The amount of agriculture experience between the two of them was sparse.
To balance their inexperience, the two began seeking guidance at the Hi-Tech Business Incubator Center in Cu Chi District, on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, where they participated in invaluable workshops that would introduce them to a world of agriculture.
It was at these workshops that Bac and Tra decided to give clean farming a shot.
Realizing his meager savings of VND120 million (US$5,274) was nowhere near enough to compete with international matcha-refining giants from Japan, he instead opted to produce pennywort – a plant both easy to cultivate and familiar to Vietnamese across the country.
In Vietnam, Chau Thanh District in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang is known as a main hub for cultivating pennywort.
There, Bac was able to find suppliers and negotiate a deal, establishing himself as a reputable partner with the local farmers.
Meanwhile, Tra traveled back and forth between Tien Giang and Ho Chi Minh City, scouring the local market for investment opportunities.
As the duo’s reputation grew, local pennywort farmers agreed to grow their crops without the aid of chemicals.
In exchange, Bac and Tra would guarantee year-round purchases without fear of stagnancy.
“A source for raw materials was no longer our main concern. We leveraged our mortgages and our parents’ ones to afford the proper machinery for the powdering,” Bac reminisced about the initial days.
“At first, the thought was overwhelmingly dreary. Now we know we are doing it right.”
Powdered veggie, Vietnamese blend
The refining process is meticulous to the slightest detail.
After the harvest, the pennywort is rinsed and freeze-dried to exterminate any bacteria.
The process typically lasts between 24 and 36 hours. Afterwards, the pennywort is transferred to the grinding stage.
Nguyen Thi Dieu Hang, vice-director of the Ho Chi Minh City Business Startup Support Center, seems to think Bac and Tra are onto something.
“As a pioneer in utilizing freeze-drying technology for the preservation of farming products, their produce is certainly a cut above conventional fresh vegetables, which will no doubt work to the company’s advantage,” he said.
Bac confessed that the first few months after their product launched was a great thrill.
As their pennywort powder is unprecedented, they had no choice but to look to the reactions from the masses to calculate their next move.
Quality control is their company’s top priority. They are constantly working with their partners to verify there is no chemical involved in the growing process.
“We have secured a firm standing in the market over the past two years. This is thanks to the quality-purity level and our initial promise to make clean products,” Tra proudly commented.
Running parallel with their pennywort powder, the two are also looking to expand their business with four more blends from green tea leaves, Vietnamese perilla, fish mint, and Moringa Oleifera.
Their product comes in 100g packages, enough to make 50-200ml of pennywort juice if the infusion ratio is 1:1.
Additionally, the powder can function as a beauty product if used as a face mask for cell recovery and scar diluting purposes.
Tra and Bac chose Quang Thanh, which means ‘spreading the freshness," as the name for their start-up.
Besides dry packages, instant powdered-infused products are also within their scope of development.
To support the newly-founded company, Nguyen Thi Dieu Hang has issued a loan and also invited them to the Ho Chi Minh City Speedup program for inventiveness and creativity in starting up.
The program is meant to help entrepreneurs find potential investors to further develop their businesses.