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Patriotic consumers fuel demand for local noodles

Patriotic consumers fuel demand for local noodles

The Kingdom’s first domestically-made instant noodles find a ready market as customers boycott Thai goods in favour of Cambodian products

Rick Valenzuela

In less than two months, Mee Yeung instant noodles, made by longtime flour and rice company Men Sarun, have proven to be an instant hit. The company's Linh Thorn says demand is exceeding initial production runs of 40,000 boxes a month -- about 2 million packages of noodles. In a couple of months, he says, they hope to take some market share from the Thai and Vietnamese noodles that dominate the market.

THE Preah Vihear crisis pushed Cambodians into an unprecedented outpouring of nationalist fervour. Flags were waved, donations were raised, and the wife of the prime minister herself flew to the temple ruins perched on a remote escarpment to hand out words of encouragement, bottles of soy sauce and packets of instant noodles.

Cambodian noodles.

Men Sarun Import Export, the company behind Mee Yeung, the Kingdom's first line of domestically produced instant noodles, have found perhaps their best marketing tool in the border dispute at Preah Vihear, where hundreds of hungry Cambodian soldiers have been encamped in the cold and fog for the past month, staring down Thai troops in the tug-of-war over territory.

Most of the 1,500 cases of Mee Yeung produced each day were being shipped to Preah Vihear prior to the redeployment of troops last weekend in preparation for Monday's border talks, said Mey Titha, general manager at Men Sarun's Instant Noodles Factory in Kandal province.

Men Sarun launched their Mee Yeung, or "Our Noodles", brand in late June, expecting a lukewarm reception.

But they have been hit with unprecedented demand, regularly selling out their stocks, said Linh Thorn, an administrative manager for Men Sarun.

"Right now we can't supply on time," he said, adding that demand for Cambodian noodles in the two months since the product launched is "extremely high".

Noodle frenzy

The country consumes about a million cases of noodles per month, with each box containing between 30 and 50 packets of noodles. The overwhelming majority of demand is met with imported noodles from Vietnam and Thailand.

But anger at Thailand over the Preah Vihear dispute had many calling for a boycott of Thai goods, including noodles, creating an unexpected windfall for Mee Yeung.

"We sell both [the Thai] Mama noodles and Mee Yeung, but now the customers say they want to have Mee Yeung rather than Mama," said Pick Vantha, 42, owner of the Khemarak Restaurant in the Phnom Penh Center. "I went three times to the nearby markets without luck, so now I go to the Phsar Kilo No. 4, five kilometres from here to find ‘Our Noodles'," Pick Vantha added.

Mey Titha said most of the noodles going to soldiers at Preah Vihear in the past month were purchased by patriotic consumers who wanted to send Cambodian rather than foreign products to their troops.

"They said they preferred Cambodian goods," she said. "But Preah Vihear is only part of the reason for the noodles' popularity. The others are good hygiene and taste."

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