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Eye specialist markets Vietnamese rice in UK

Wednesday, 19/03/2014, 15:40 GMT+7

Eye specialist markets Vietnamese rice in UK

While her profession has nothing to do with rice, Pham Thi Bien Thuy has been actively promoting a special type of Vietnamese rice in the UK, where she works as an eye specialist, to prove that Vietnam is just as capable of producing safe and healthy food as other developed countries.

“I’m doing business but it is not for profits’ sake,” she told Tuoi Tre in late November 2013 via telephone after returning to Birmingham from London, where she attended the BBC Good Food Show.

It was her first time speaking with the newspaper due to her busy schedule.

Thuy said she was tired yet delighted by the event, as this was the first time Vietnamese rice had been on display at a major event hosted by the BBC.

The specialist at Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre, one of the largest eye centers in the UK, began to develop an interest in organic Vietnamese black rice more than two years ago. She has since sought to bring her country’s specialty closer to British consumers.

At the BBC Good Food Show, a culinary festival celebrating seasonal artisan and gourmet cuisine, Thuy was ‘besieged’ by a number of customers asking about the black organic rice, she said.

“This was a remarkable success in terms of promoting and marketing the product,” she proudly said.

From Vietnam’s Ca Mau Province to England

Thuy’s journey to becoming a rice marketer began in late 2011, when she ran across an article in the Daily Mail about the healthy value of organic rice.

Coincidently enough, she then discovered that a farm in Vietnam, run by Ca Mau-based Vien Phu Co, had also been certified by the international organization BIO Organic for its organic black rice.

Her immediate thought after reading the article was to find ways to “bring organic Vietnamese rice to the UK, then other European countries, to show that Vietnamese can also produce safe and healthy food like other developed countries,” Thuy recalled.

Marketing the rice abroad would also help generate more jobs and increase farmers’ incomes in the southernmost Vietnamese province of Ca Mau, she thought.

Her idea was strongly supported by her parents, who live in An Giang, a Mekong Delta province.

But it was a tough road for Thuy to go from that initial idea to a successful business.

Thuy began exchanging emails with Vien Phu Co, and also had her parents visit the company’s farm to examine its production process.

It took Thuy six months to complete procedures to establish the Vietnamese Organic Black Rice Supplier Co to import rice from Vien Phu for sale in the UK.

In March 2013, the first batch of imports – six tonnes of the organic black rice now branded Hoa Sua – eventually arrived in England after a 1.5-month trip across the ocean.

The marketer who cooks

Following the arrival of the rice, Thuy took advantage of her weekends and after-work hours every night to introduce the specialty to British consumers with a unique marketing approach.

The eye doctor visited restaurants, Vietnamese pagodas, and Indian temples to cook the rice and offer it to diners. While her potential customers were eating, Thuy told them how safe and healthy the organic rice was.

Orders then began to flood in via the Internet, with the rice costing only 5 GBP per kg.

The doctor and rice marketer has managed to empty her six-tonne stock sooner than expected, which Thuy said was a significant success at the very early stage of her business.

“I hope that from the UK market, Hoa Sua rice can go further into other EU countries,” she said.

In May 2013, Thuy was awarded 2,000 GBP by the UK government as encouragement. A month later, Thuy made her way to the BBC Good Food Show in London.

In an article published in the Birmingham Post in October 2013, Mike Loftus, a former manager of investment agency Locate In Birmingham and current director of another agency News From The Future, praised Thuy’s ambition and her devotion to the organic rice project.

“At a time when we are encouraging our own SMEs to engage with overseas markets, her example might well be an inspiration to other sectors of the UK business scene,” he wrote.

Thuy first arrived in the UK in 2002 on a pre-university scholarship. She then studied ophthalmology at the University of Liverpool before working for the Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre after graduation

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