A DIRECTOR SOLD HIS HOUSE IN SAIGON TO GO HOME TO PRODUCE CHOCOLATE
After 10 years in Saigon, the 8X guy decided to sell his house and left position of director to go home to produce chocolate.
In 2016, during his business trip to Ba Ria Vung Tau, Mr. Ho Si Bao, director of a transport company in Saigon, had the opportunity to meet cocoa farmers here. He said that cocoa was of good quality but only sold fruits, it was easily reduced price by traders, so many people were discouraged and cut off, planted other trees to earn more money.
Returning to Saigon but not forgetting cacao tree, after a night of thinking, Bao said the idea of “shocking” his wife was to give up the job of director and sell the house to start a business. After a time of persuasion, his wife agreed to sell the house at price of VND 1.1 billion. They borrowed more VND 2 billion from relatives and friends and took two children to Song Xoai, Ba Ria – Vung Tau to buy land, build houses and make cocoa processing workshops.
“It’s really not easy to change the environment from the vibrant city to remote rural areas. For the times I saw my wife and children bitten by centipede, scorpion, insect, I’m so painful that I can not say anything”, Mr. Bao told me about the first days of completing the house in 2016. Moreover, the Saigon boy took 4 months to receive the nod of agreement of more than 30 farmers in Tan Thanh and Chau Duc districts to establish Chau Duc Organic Cocoa Cooperative, growing cocoa according to the standards set out by him on area of 55 ha.
When the source of cacao was available, Bao invested 8 wooden boxes to ferment cocoa beans. Each batch takes 6 days to ferment, turn every 24 hours. After 6 days of fermentation, cocoa beans are exposed to the sun for 10 days, then must turn 4-5 times every day to to allow the beans dried naturally and retain its flavor. However, the first batch is failed completely, VND 100 million is gone.
After hundreds of fail, he gained successful incubations, Bao met his friend, also a mechanical lecturer at a university. Feeling his passion, this friend agreed to transfer cocoa production machinery and techniques. That was the end of 2016, with 30 million dongs, he deposited all to buy machine. “We don’t have money to buy anything at that Lunar New Year, but everyone was still happy to think of the right direction,” he said he started producing cocoa powder from April 2017.
However, happiness is also as fast as Lunar New Year. The weakness of brand and incorrect identification of customer segments make output poor, backlog production, large operating costs while distributors owe money but do not pay. At the peak, the inventory is at 500 kg of powder, worth of nearly VND 240 million. The company must pay salary for 5 employees and receive 4 tons of cocoa from 30 members each month.
“Every day I wake up, debt is also growing, farmer’s, employee’s and familiy’s confidence are decreased. I doubt my ability and opportunity to succeed. The capital is exhausted, sometimes I only have enough money to buy a few packages of noodles, “he said.
That year, when cocoa is ended harvest season, Mr. Bao reviewed direction and decided to make chocolate. Money is no longer available, he sells all of his best cocoa beans and other things to collect VND 250 million to buy machine. Just like brewing beans, the first batch of chocolate is also failed, it seems to test the “persistence” level of the guy born in 1985. He was “persist” but this time he had a chance to meet a partner – Meiji Group (Japan).
After visiting the farm, the group decided to support technique of making handmade chocolates. Bao sent it to Japan for the partner’s inspection to evaluate taste, quality then refine many times to finally be recognized by Meiji in August 2018.
To get a brand, he brought the product to a chocolate contest. In September 2018, his product won the Silver Award at the International Chocolate Award in the Asia-Pacific region in Taiwan and went on to the international round with the Bronze Award. He became the only Vietnamese to have this award.
After the prize, Bao’s Bapula chocolate started retailing quite well. From December, 1,000 pure chocolate bars with worth of VND 50 million were exported to Japan. He said he was prepared to sign the contract with a distributor in Hanoi at value of VND 40 million in the next month and prepared to work with a supermarket system.
“My 2019 plan is to boost export to Japan, Singapore and Korea. Inland, I aim to bring products into systems like Vinmart, Satra, Annam Gourmet. In addition, I will open stores in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Da Nang and Hanoi,” he planned.
Bao said that every time he moved to a new step, there was a waiting failure ahead. But like the time he had just finished building a house in the countryside, or the time he first brewed or took the first batch of chocolate, he said that he would still choose to step forward. He admitted his reckless to leave the city to hometown was just beginning.