More than a decade ago, when Hay Ly Eang started working on his long-term idea of processing palm juice, people told him he was crazy. Palm juice, they said, is not a profitable, luxurious product, and that’s what he should focus on instead.
Today, Eang is the president of Confirel, a successful, 50-employee-strong enterprise that processes palm juice into palm sugar, palm wine and palm vinegar. With the products, he said he wants to contribute to Cambodia’s import-driven economy. Making a profit won’t hurt either.
The idea came in 1992, but it wasn’t until 2001 that it first came to fruition. He said he waited so long because he had to take the palm sugar to a laboratory in France, where he could monitor the quality and potential of the palm products. He also wanted to train up his local staff and invest in more personnel.
“We buy goods from other [countries]; we provide wages to them. We see several billions in figures, how much do they take back?” he said. “If Cambodians still sell sweat for others, our nation cannot become rich and our nation will face permanent instability due to a lack of a robust economy.”
“My items will become long-term products of Cambodia because the raw material, palm juice, will always be available.”
So far, Confirel, has produced over 30 kinds of products from palm juice, including palm wines, organic palm sugar and Chocopalm, candy made from fruits and palm sugar.
His company’s products not only serve the domestic market. Confirel has been exporting to France, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. The most potential market, however, is tourism.
Confirel works with over 100 families in Kampong Speu province who provide the raw material. But Eang said he hopes that this number will increase once the products prove themselves in other markets.
Eang started the business on a budget of $60,000. Travelling to France to examine samples in the laboratory has pushed the total investment beyond $2 million.
But according to Eang, the palm juice creations make a contribution to the national economy, as a country shouldn’t depend on importing goods.
“We want to see these products bring value-added for our country. If we want our economy to become rich, we need our products to have more basic cost and value-added,” he said.
“For now, we have [produced] enough brands of the end product, so in 2014, we need to focus on marketing [to sell it],” he said.