Vietnam is the underrated rice producer you need to know.
Rice is called ‘white gold’ in Vietnam and part of the staple diet in the country and the rest of Asia. Not only is Vietnam the world’s seventh-largest consumer of rice, it is also the third-largest exporter worldwide, lagging only slightly behind Thailand and India.
Rice has been grown in Vietnam for thousands of years mainly in the Red River Delta in the northeast part of the country, and on the north-central coast. Especially crucial to Vietnam’s rice cultivation is the Mekong Delta which lies at the heart of the country. Popularly known as the “Rice Bowl” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is made up of 12 provinces with 17 million people and 80% of them contributing to growing rice.
A Growing Giant: Increased Production & Export
Thanks to the widespread use of fertilizers, pesticides, and high-yielding varieties, the production of the Vietnam paddies have increased significantly during the early 2000s. In 2011, Vietnam produced 42.4 million tons of rice and in 2021 the yield increased to approximately 43.9 million tons of rice of which 6.27 million tons of rice was exported ( Statistica) Conversely, Thailand produced 38.1 million tons of rice in 2011 and 25.31million tons of rice in 2020 (Statistica ). It is no secret that Vietnam has been competing with Thailand in the rice export race and Vietnam’s rice export volume has definitely surged in recent times causing Vietnam to supplant Thailand as the bigger rice exporter.
Premium Vietnamese Varietals (including the winner of World’s Best Rice title 2019)
Thailand may have its Hom Mali or Thai fragrant jasmine rice famed for having a pleasant aroma but Vietnam has introduced a strong competitor in the production of a strain of rice called ST25, locally known as Gao Ong Cua (Mr. Cua’s Rice), which won the World’s Best Rice title in 2019 (source: Haiquan Online). Since 2005, Vietnam has entered into the competition for exports of high quality rice, and expanded in this market by improving their rice silos to reduce moisture in rice and developing more appropriate storage systems, as well promoting Vietnamese brand names overseas.
In fact, after more than 30 years of conquering the world rice market, Vietnam is no longer inferior to others in terms of the quality and price of its exported rice according to Vietnam Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Quoc Doanh. (source: Vietnam Net Global). There is an increasing trend in Vietnam for producing higher quality rice with some 77% of production focused on the premium varietals to enhance the value of “Vietnamese rice grain brand”. The proportion of high-quality rice accounts for over 89% of exported rice, which has contributed to raising the average export price of rice from 496 USD/ton in 2020 to over 503 USD/ton in 2021. (Source: Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development of Vietnam).
As Vietnam rice is grown mostly in the Mekong Delta, a fertile water-logged area, the rice is characteristically soft and sticky compared to rice from Thailand, Cambodia and India. Modern polishing and processing techniques also help to keep the rice fresh for more than a year without having a mouldy smell.
Lower Prices, Better Margins
In 2021, Thai white rice was priced at $493 per ton while Vietnam white rice was at $488-492 per ton (Source: The Nation Thailand). What sways most restaurants and F&B companies in their preference for Vietnam rice is the cheaper price compared to Thai rice, which no doubt helps to boost slim profit margins in the COVID-19 challenged era.
One of the factors that affect the price of rice is the volume that is produced. Rice growing is serious business and climate changes have affected the world’s supply of rice. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about its own set of unique challenges with factors like changing labour markets and delays in the supply chain. Thailand previously experienced lower rice production attributed to political factors when the military government came into power in 2014, it encouraged farmers to diversify by growing other crops or stop farming altogether.
Vietnamese Rice Preferred in Mala Hotpot Chain
One such F&B stall who has chosen to serve Vietnam rice for its lower cost and high quality, is Red Dot Mala Hotpot (小红点麻辣香锅). The stall offers fluffy Vietnamese rice as a complement to their signature mala hotpot dishes. “We were using Vietnam rice from another distributor but switched to Chef’s Pantry because of the good service and the trust we have in the company,” shares stall owner Simon Ng.
Citing how some dishonest suppliers may mix inferior quality rice into their rice product and then repack to resell it, Simon says that it’s easy to see the quality difference in the rice when they cook it. He adds, “As Chef’s Pantry is part of the FairPrice Group, we know that they will not resort to such practices as they have many guidelines to uphold the quality.”
Rice is not only an important complement to mala dishes, it is a staple in Asian cuisine. For many restaurants and F&B businesses in Singapore, rice is an ingredient that they cannot do without. While the price of rice is generally trending upwards, businesses can opt for the cheaper yet high quality Vietnam rice as an alternative to Thai rice.