The Brunei Halal Brand, participating for the second year at the China-Asean Expo, and Sabli Food Industries Sdn Bhd, participating for the fifth consecutive year, have seen a significant number of manufacturers and distributors setting their eyes on the prospect of manufacturing food items with the Brunei Halal Brand and distributing canned processed food items from Sabli Food.
Despite the two companies' main objective to hunt for respective manufacturers and distributors, they have also entertained an influx of visitors quickly grabbing products from Sabli Food and products from Brunei Halal on display at the Brunei Darussalam's Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) booth yesterday.
Sabli Food conducted food sampling at the booth and a majority of the visitors made good comments and were generally impressed with the taste and quality.
A few visitors were also return-customers who bought the food items from last year's CAEXPO.
Speaking to the Bulletin at the Brunei MIPR booth at the CAEXPO yesterday were two representatives from both companies; Melline Jaini, Brand Marketing Executive at Brunei Wafirah Holdings Sdn Bhd, the holding company and brand owner of the Brunei Halal, and also Jasmadi Hj Jamudin, General Manager at Sabli Food Industries (B) Sdn Bhd.
Brunei Halal has been getting more responsive reaction in its second participation. Melline revealed that they have generated a large number of interest from Chinese manufacturers particularly after the Brunei Promotion Seminar the previous day.
"But we don't just attend to any interest. Of course we have to be discerning in terms of what we want. It comes down to the strict procedures of Brunei Halal that these manufactures have to comply with including Halal tests and on the other hand is market research, what do we want and what do we need," she explained.
She also revealed that some were also interested in becoming agents for the ready Brunei Halal products but explained that they were looking for sole distributors, which is a challenge for Brunei Halal in China.
"They have been approaching us in terms of everything from the production of white coffee to sweets and crisps. Some of them would only want to take a few products."
She further explained that tapping into the China market is not easy because China has so many of its own products.
"Having to complete with their own product line is a big challenge. If you just walk into their major supermarkets, even Western big brands are not easy to find. China is big and the population is enormous, but at the end of the day, it is down to the buying power and if they still want local products, that is not out of the scope either," she added.
"A lot of people are interested but we are emphasising on an awareness campaign that there is a Brunei Halal Brand. For us, it is more on the promotion on the brand rather than the product itself; we did sell the products but did not aim to sell. It wouldn't be fair anyway if we don't have a sole distributor here. We have products with top quality and our manufacturers come from all over the world. We are expanding slowly and looking for more manufacturers," she said.
Melline also revealed that most of Brunei Halal's current product manufacturers come mainly from China and also from Malaysia.
"Active distributors for Brunei Halal's products in Singapore and Thailand are also doing quite well. We just need to work with both hands to excel better.
"Our ambitions are not just to have products from Asia exported to Europe but also vice-versa. It will be horizontal integration of the Brunei Halal global brand," she further explained
Meanwhile, Jasmadi from Sabli Food said their products, particularly the Canned Corned Beef and Chicken Curry have been well accepted by visitors at the CAEXPO.
"It's nearly out of stock. So far, we have attended to a few queries from distributors and hope they will agree to strike a deal with us," he said.
Jasmadi said they have been unsuccessful in scouting for distributors from China since their first participation here. He said a factor attributing to this is the cost of importing and competition. For instance, he said, although import/export tax is almost nil with incentives from the Brunei Government and with the establishment of the China-Asean Free Trade Act (CAFTA), export freight shipment charges from Brunei to China costs at around $5,000, while exporting from China to Brunei costs less than half of it.
"So the importer will have to bear the freight charges at both sides because we only provide FOB (free-on board). When the products arrive here, the retail price would be high because the distributors here would have to cover their expenses. When the prices are higher, then we tend to lose our competitive edge with the local products," he said.
"We are now looking for a niche market but we have not reached them yet. There are 60 milllion Muslims here in western China. We want to reach this community. Maybe one day we can manage to break into the Halal market here," he said.
The Bulletin asked Jasmadi if Sabli Food has plans to introduce their products to the Muslim communities in China. He replied, "We have plans to to go to Xinjiang with a few other groups as a majority of Chinese Muslims are living there. We would like to conduct an exhibition and promotional food sampling there in the future or even invite their distributors to come to CAEXPO next time."
The Bulletin also asked both representatives from Brunei Halal and Sabli Food if they have established effective follow-up mechanisms for the potential manufacturers and distributors here.
Melline said Brunei Halal has a dedicated Product & Procurement Marketing Section to look at these areas. Jasmadi said they have been following up with the interested parties over the last few years but there has been no further response.
Meanwhile, Melline revealed that Brunei Halal will be introducing new products in the market in the near future.
"Some time next year, our product range will be expanding into more readymade meals such as prata breads," she said.
Although there are no plans for Brunei Halal to set up an office in China yet, she said they have set up an office in the UK and plan to break into the market there next year.
"In fact, there are a lot of international manufacturers that are interested in the Brunei Halal Brand, but when it comes to domestic market, there are challenges." ~ Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin.