The market for milk hand-carried into Vietnam is booming because of consumer belief that it’s better than domestic or officially imported milk.
Despite Vietnam’s retail network growing extensively and meeting nearly all food needs, including for high-quality imports, hand-carried goods have found a market niche and are popular among Vietnamese consumers. To meet the increasing demand of Vietnamese consumers for high-quality products from foreign countries, many shops now sell goods brought into the country by hand. It’s very easy to find a range of famous products from all over the world, especially those for children, such as cheese, nutritional tea, cereal, and canned salmon in shops along Hanoi’s streets. Hand-carried milk, in particular, is much sought after, not only at specialty shops but also online and even via individuals like flight attendants advertising in the media.
Many people still buy hand-carried milk even though its price is more expensive than for official imports.
People who buy hand-carried milk for their children, when asked by VET, said they are satisfied with the quality despite its high price. Ms Nguyen Thi Hue from Hanoi’s Dong Anh district has bought hand-carried milk for her five-year-old son since he was born. “I usually buy PediaSure from America or S26 from Australia, from a flight attendant,” she said. “I see him growing stronger every day.” PediaSure, she added, is very good, with no fat, a good calorie count for children playing all day, and many vitamins, and does not cause constipation. “I feel comfortable buying hand-carried milk for my son because of its good quality and reliable ingredients.”
Ms Dinh Thi Huong only started buying hand-carried milk for her son one year ago, when he was three years old. When he was younger she only just bought officially imported milk such as Dielac Alpha, Enfagrow, and Friso, because their price matched her income. “But I found he wasn’t putting on much weight,” she explained. “He was very thin. Then I heard about Karicare, a hand-carried milk from America not imported to Vietnam. He put on some weight after drinking six 900-gram boxes.” She has only bought the hand-carried milk ever since, even though its price is higher than official imports and domestic milk. “The quality of hand-carried milk is much better than domestic and imported milk,” she believes. “Although it is expensive, I want to buy good milk for my son.”
With increasing demand from consumers, the market for hand-carried milk at shops and also online is developing strongly. The appearance of shops to meet demand is, in turn, creating more demand. Hand-carried milk usually comes from developed countries such as Japan, Germany, Italy, Australia, and the US via flight attendants or from people living or traveling overseas.
At a milk shop in Hai Bai Trung Street in Hanoi, VET saw many types of milk, both domestic and foreign, such as Vinamilk, Dutch Lady, Mead Johnson, Abbott, and so on. When asked about hand-carried milk, the shop owner showed us S26, with all English information on the box, and said “S26 is from Australia and is 100 per cent genuine.” She added that because her relatives work for an airline and can buy milk in foreign countries and bring to back to Vietnam, customers can be assured about quality.
Hand-carried milk also sells strongly online. A quick internet search in Vietnamese brings up many addresses selling hand-carried milk from developed countries, such as Meiji and Wakodo from Japan, S26 from Australia and America, and others. VET called a hotline number at an online address, where a woman introduced us to Meiji from Japan at VND590,000 per 850 gram box and Karicare from America at VND470,000 for a 900 gram box. These brands, she said, are preferred by many Vietnamese consumers and she guaranteed that her hand-carried milk is the genuine article because she is a flight attendant and she buys the milk herself in foreign countries. She said demand is so high that she is often out of stock.
But there have been instances of poor quality milk being brought to Vietnam and sold for high prices. Shops will show their customers a box of milk with foreign-language information, as a way of gaining trust, but most customers don’t understand what they are reading about as regards ingredients and use. Many shops take advantage of this, and sell low-quality hand-carried milk at high prices. According to Ms Hue, people should only buy from shops they are familiar with. “I buy hand-carried milk for my son at a shop in Nguyen Son Street, where I believe in the quality,” she said.
A doctor of nutrition in Hanoi said that consumers should buy well-known brands because the level of hygiene and food safety is higher at major producers. “Hand-carried milk is the same; consumers should not use milk from unfamiliar companies,” he said. “It is better to seek an opinion from an expert in order to know whether a certain hand-carried milk is suitable for their children or not.” Because there is no Vietnamese language on the boxes, he added, consumers need to find out what the information is telling them before they buy it.