“In the past, I rarely bought fruits due to financial constraints. I only focused on buying meat to prepare my daily meals”, says Nguyen Van Quy. And he is not the only Vietnamese consumer.
According to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), adults should consume 400g of vegetables and fruits a day to reach their nutritional needs, prevent micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity, and non-communicable diseases.
However, a 2019-2020 survey from Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition shows that Vietnamese people only consume between 66 and 77% of the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
This is particularly the case for low-income consumers in cities such as Hanoi: 80% of families do not meet the WHO’s recommended fruit and vegetable consumption per day. In addition, safe and organic products are not commonly traded in Hanoi’s lower-income urban and peri-urban wards, such as Van Chuong, Hang Bot, Bien Giang and Dong Mai, and hence also not commonly consumed.
In 2018, Rikolto, Wageningen University and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) joined forces to study and increase the fruit and vegetables intake among low-income populations in Nigeria and Vietnam through food system improvements, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development.
In Hanoi, we address the accessibility, affordability and acceptability of fruits and vegetables by working with vendors and consumers to identify innovations that aim at boosting the intake of fruits and vegetables.
35 small shops have started testing innovations as of 2020. These range from displaying nutritional content and advice for fruits and vegetables, to using a specific loyalty card that encourages the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Nguyen Van Quy is one of the first consumers to participate in the loyalty card initiative. Every month, he receives a card with which he can purchase selected fruits and vegetables. The card is valid for one month. For each purchase with a total value of 50,000 VND, he will get 1 point from the seller. When he reaches 10 points, he will receive a 50,000 VND discount on his next purchase and a gift such as a reusable shopping bag. He says: “Since I got my customer card, I buy fruits more often, so the family meal becomes richer.”
Since December 2020, 300 consumers like him have joined the loyalty card programme, and 60 to 70% of them have increased from 1 to 2 turns of purchase per week. Fruit and vegetable sellers at local markets in the four districts where the project is implemented, also notice a difference.
Nguy Thi Ngan, a fruit seller at Van Chuong market, says: "Since joining the initiative, I get more customers who come to buy more frequently.” Additionally, she and other sellers participated in trainings on nutrition consultancy for customers and more appealing displays, organised within the frame of the project. She now displays her fruits in colour-coded baskets.
Together with sellers at traditional markets, Rikolto also developed a consumer subsidy programme through coupons for fruits. Every week, low-income households would receive a coupon with a value between 30,000 to 60,000 VND, valid for two weeks. Randomly selected consumers are now testing this coupon system: the project team visits each household to distribute the coupons and explain how to use them when buying fresh produce from the small market stand owners.
"The coupon is very useful, helping me to buy more fruits for my family in the condition that my spending capacity is limited," said Tran Thi Lan, a customer at Dong Mai market in Ha Dong district. Between March 2021 and now, 400 low-income households in Van Chuong, Hang Bot wards, Bien Giang and Dong Mai wards have already been able to use the discount coupons when buying fruits.
According to research conducted in April 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, food safety is a top consumer concern. Vietnamese consumers are increasingly interested in quality food with safety standards, such as organic and safe vegetables.
However, in traditional and informal markets in Van Chuong, Hang Bot, Bien Giang and Dong Mai wards, only a few stalls (2-3%) are selling safe vegetables. The number of vegetables sold in places selling safe vegetables is also very limited because consumers have not developed the habit of purchasing safe vegetables and are unsure about the safety of the source. Furthermore, the price difference between safe and regular vegetables is big, making it difficult for people, particularly those with low incomes, to purchase safe vegetables.
That is why Rikolto has researched and developed an initiative to assist small businesses in low-income urban areas in selling safe vegetables. This initiative is the result of a series of co-creation workshops with the participation of consumers and small retailers in the area.
Rikolto supports the safe vegetable sellers by connecting them with Dang Xa Cooperative, a farmer organisation producing safe vegetables in Dang Xa Commune on the outskirts of Hanoi. Since 2018, Dang Xa cooperative has been using a Participatory Guarantee System to guarantee that the vegetables its members produce are safe. The cooperative is guided in this process by Rikolto. To reduce the transportation costs of the safe vegetables from the field to the city, the vegetable sellers in Hanoi are collaborating to collect their vegetables together at a specific location.
As of June, with the support of the project, vendors in Hang Bot ward have started advertising the fact that they are selling safe vegetables through signboards, and are using specific shelves and lanyards to clearly highlight the origins and safety of the vegetables they are selling. This, in combination with the discount programmes for vegetables and fruits, should make safe produce more affordable and accessible in low-income wards. If it proves to be successful in Hang Bot, the same principles will be introduced in other wards too.