Negative trends roil rice market

Negative trends roil rice market

The maker of Hongthong spies opportunity, writes Pitsinee Jitpleecheep

Vallop Manathanya, chairman of Bangsue Chia Meng Rice Mill Co, says the group has sought permission to raise packaged rice prices.
Vallop Manathanya, chairman of Bangsue Chia Meng Rice Mill Co, says the group has sought permission to raise packaged rice prices.

On top of fierce competition in the Thai rice industry, a slowdown in the country's rice consumption is giving rice traders a new headache.

But Bangsue Chia Meng Rice Mill Co, the maker of the Hongthong (Golden Phoenix) brand, sees the trend as an opportunity more than a threat.

The company is thinking big. Recent moves include conducting a feasibility study of making rice-based cosmetic and pharmaceutical products to mitigate business risk and increase sales in a sustainable manner.

"Currently, per capita consumption of rice in Thailand is averaging 60-70 kilogrammes a year, with the proportion in urban areas staying at only 40-50 kilogrammes a year compared with the average of 100 kilogrammes in the past five years," said Vallop Manathanya, chairman of Bangsue Chia Meng Rice Mill Co.

The sharp drop in rice consumption is because of the reduction in childbirth, the trend of dining out by Thai people and the multiple options in food from the East and the West.

Growing health concerns and Thailand's ageing society will also cause rice consumption to decline in the future.

A package of Golden Phoenix brown jasmine rice for health-conscious buyers. The brand is sold in over 50 countries.

"We've sold hom mali [fragrant rice] for 80 years, but our sales are only 5 billion baht a year, so we need to diversify," Mr Vallop said.

The group set up a new company called BSCM Food Co to sell rice-based food and drink products over the past few years.

The company also acquired Bai Miang, a health food shop, a few months ago to enhance its distribution channels.

Earlier, the group began operating three branches of Hongthong Health Station, selling its hom mali packed rice.

BSCM sells hom mali rice under the Hongthong brand in the domestic market and the Golden Phoenix brand in more than 50 countries.

Sales volume grew by 15% to 250,000 tonnes in 2017, with a sales value of 5 billion baht. The group expects sales to increase by 60% to 400,000 tonnes a year or 9-10 billion baht in value over the next five years.

To achieve its goals, the group has launched a new product, Zuper Rice, to attract health-conscious consumers. The company also vows to focus on promoting its hom mali rice products via social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and through the e-commerce channel.

"We aim for the transactions on these channels to grow by more than 100% this year and more than 200% in 2019," said Sopan Manathanya, managing director of Chia Meng Marketing Co.

The Hongthong brand was launched 80 years ago by Mr Vallop's grandfather, Bualim Saekow, who left behind deprivation in China for a new start in Thailand.

The company owns rice mills in Nonthaburi, Sri Sa Ket, Roi Et and Suphan Buri, which are points of purchase and production for white rice and fragrance rice.

Due to a worker shortage, the company is budgeting 500 million baht through 2022 to install machines for fully automated production at all rice mills.

With the increase in paddy rice prices to 18,000 baht a tonne from 10,000 baht last year, the company has asked for Commerce Ministry approval to adjust the price of hom mali rice for its five-kilogramme pack now selling for 290 baht.

If the ministry approves, the company will adjust its price soon, Mr Vallop said.

"Due to high demand for hom mali rice, it is possible that the price of the premium rice for a five-kilogramme package will exceed 300 baht per package this year," he said.

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