Cambodia has always been a source for a broad variety of raw materials from the agricultural sector. The country exports many of these materials to neighbouring countries and other markets in the world – without turning them into new products.
This lack of domestic processing has made Cambodia lose potential income, as the country has to import most products from its neighbours, rather than selling them, because of insufficient technologies and equipment, not enough capital and a gap in trust in locally produced goods.
Some, however, are defying the status quo, using their own efforts to process raw materials and turning them into their own products. They create techniques to serve the local market, and at the same time challenge imported products.
One example is Phnom Penh Healthy Rice Noodle, a local company that has been producing wet rice noodles for 30 years. Five months ago, they transitioned and started making packaged instant rice noodles.
“The reason we produce instant noodles is because there were so many suggestions [coming] from our clients who consumed our wet noodles,” says Bun Song, marketing manager of Phnom Penh Healthy Rice Noodle.
The 34-year old says his family has been selling wet rice noodles for five generations, but the current generation decided to produce instant noodles – a decision that costed nearly $200,000 to buy a new processing machine.
“We have studied [the way to package products] for two years prior to the investment decision for producing the packaged instant noodles,” he said, adding that “we think carefully about how to make it hygienic without using chemicals.”
The enterprise is located in Bakheng Leu village in Bakheng commune of Russei Keo district in Phnom Penh and employs about 60 to 70 staff.
The business needs more than one tonne of milled rice in order to produce nearly 1,000 cases of instant noodles. One case consist of 30 packages.
For the last five months, Song said the product has circulated in 15 provinces across the country, except for remote areas such as Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri and Banteay Meanchey.
He said he tried to market the product by cooking for people in front of crowded markets, with 30 to 40 cases of noodles given away for free to curious customers every morning.
“My project [has to] capture the local market first, to make people recognise our products in all provinces,” he said, adding that “in the future, I believe our products will [be sold] throughout the [whole] country”.
Because there are already similar products in Cambodia’s food sector, his product has competitors, especialy from imported goods.
But Song says the most important thing is that people are satisfied with the taste and that the products meet the quality expectations of the customers, an exchange that will win trust.
“It is normal [to have] competition from similar products from other countries, but I think Cambodian products do not stand lower [in quality than] foreign products,” he said.