International demand for Cambodian sugar-palm wine continues to boom.
Local producer Confirel can supply only a small fraction of the alcoholic beverage
to a market it estimates is thirsty for 8,000 liters per day.
The bottled version of the traditional Khmer favorite started out as a niche product,
but flavor and sleek packaging have increased its popularity across the world.
"Our major export is to overseas markets, such as France, USA, China and Vietnam,"
said Lyaun Hay, Confirel's managing director. "The local market is very small."
Hay said the company received a license from the Ministry of Commerce in October
2001 but initially kept their launch small because the quality of their product was
By 2003, Confirel had managed to control the quality of their bottled palm wine and
began exporting to France. Each half-liter bottle sells for about $5 overseas. The
local price is $2 a bottle.
Last year the company expanded its markets to China, USA and Vietnam, sending seven
containers of Confirel products abroad.
The company has signed contracts with about 300 families in Kampong Speu and Kandal
provinces to supply the sweet, watery sap of the palm tree fruit that is the main
ingredient for their wine.
Chheng Chay, 68, a farmer at Tomnup Sap village in Ang Snuol district of Kandal province,
has been a supplier for the past three years.
Before dawn each morning he begins climbing the trunks of his sugar palms to make
a small cut in the fruit, allowing the nectar to ooze out into a wide plastic pipe.
By seven o'clock, Chay has collected between 30 and 60 liters of palm juice from
his 30 trees, which is then picked up by the company.
"My family's living conditions have become better than before, and I have some
time to do other things," said Chay, who used to boil his palm juice down into
palm sugar to sell at the local market.
Ol Tola, vice general manager of Confirel, said the company has been educating farmers
about sanitary ways to collect and keep the palm juice, adding that company doesn't
buy sour juice.
The dry season is the most productive time for palm tapping, and Comfirel said it
can collect up to 1,000 liters of palm juice a day. In the wet season this falls
to around 300 liters.
To meet the growing market demand, Comfirel is planning on extending its supply network
to Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Takeo, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces.
Palm wine accounts for more than 60 percent of Confirel's sales. The company also
produces palm sugar, sweet palm juices, natural palm vinegars, palm aperitifs, and
dried fruits cured with palm sugar.
A cognac made from sugar palm nectar will soon be launched.