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Rice brand has yet to stick

A woman prepares rice for packaging in front of a distribution store in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district in 2013.
A woman prepares rice for packaging in front of a distribution store in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district in 2013. Scott Howes

Rice brand has yet to stick

The private sector’s campaign to develop a single recognisable umbrella brand for Cambodia’s premium varieties of fragrant rice looks increasingly tenuous after a government body voiced objections to the name selected, and argued instead that the country should market each variety of rice under its own individual brand name.

The Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) selected the name “Angkor Malis” as the official umbrella brand in May after consultations with market experts and the various stakeholders. The brand name – which covers the somali, phka romduol, phka romeat and jasmine varieties of fragrant rice – was submitted to the Ministry of Commerce for trademark approval last month in an effort to build a single recognisable brand that would strengthen the international marketing efforts of Cambodia’s premium fragrant rice.

However, the government’s National Standards Council (NSC) has been working independently to develop standards for local rice varieties. Last month it announced it had finalised the national standards for the production and trade of phka romduol and phka chansensor varieties, and would develop more.

Hean Vanhan, deputy chairman of the NSC, said yesterday he opposes the use of Angkor Malis as an umbrella brand for Cambodian premium fragrant rice, arguing that it would be better instead to market each variety as its own individual brand.

“I oppose using the name Angkor Malis to apply for the whole industry,” said Vanhan, who is also an official at the Ministry of Agriculture.

He said any negative issues associated with a single brand name, such as a spoiled rice shipment to Europe, would hurt the reputation of the entire industry.

“If, for example, one fish spoils in a bucket fish, then the whole bucket spoils,” he said.

In addition, he argued that the name Angkor Malis would confuse consumers as it sounds like a geographical indication (GI) label, such as Kampot pepper, yet the rice does not necessarily come from an area near Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s most internationally recognised landmark.

Vanhan underscored the importance of branding rice by the name of its variety, arguing that this was particularly important in the case of phka rumduol, the rice variety that achieved international fame after being crowned the world’s best rice three times. Moreover, he suggested that in addition to each variety’s umbrella brand, private companies should be encouraged to register their own variant trademarks.

Hun Lak, vice present of the CRF, declined to comment on whether the private industry body would reconsider its nomination of Angkor Malis as a single umbrella brand. He stressed, however, that the name was selected after more than a year of deliberations and numerous rounds of controlled impact studies.

“We want to have an umbrella brand in order to expand our international market and promote the rice industry,” he said. “The trademark will cover our premium rice variety, and we have set our criteria, standards and management for this brand.”

Lak said it was yet unclear who had final authority over the branding of Cambodia rice but said he would meet with the NSC and the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss the issue and their views.

Thouk Mutheary, deputy director of the intellectual property department at the Ministry of Commerce, confirmed that a trademark application for the name Angkor Malis had been submitted and was now under review.

“We are still researching and evaluating it,” she said, “The approval process will take at least three months and up to six months from the date of submission.”

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