Enterprises in the food industry should focus more on improving production technologies to create products with added value, delegates said at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City on November 26.

Ta Hoang Linh, Deputy General Director of the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, said Vietnam's varied geographic and climatic conditions enabled it to grow a diverse range of agricultural crops.

The products not only meet domestic demand but also exports, Linh said, adding that Vietnam is the world's largest exporter of many farm produce such as cashew nuts, coffee, rice, tea and seafood.

However, export revenue remains low since most products were exported as raw materials with very little processing.

Dam Ngoc Nam, Deputy Head of the Department of Processing and Trade for Agro-forestry-Fisheries Products and Salt Production, agreed, saying that the deep processing rate in the cashew sector (salted cashews, fried and spicy cashews, mixed nuts, cashew confectionery), for instance, is modest, with only 6 percent.

The ratio is about 10 percent for fruits and coffee sectors, he said.

Although enterprises involved in agricultural, forestry and fisheries production have invested significantly in modern technologies and equipments, a large number of firms have not invested in equipment to enhance product value, mostly because of financial difficulties, he said.

Ly Kim Chi, Chairwoman of Food and Foodstuff Association of HCM City, said local firms should invest more in upgrading production machinery, strengthen market research, and diversify products to fit the tastes and habits of each market and customers.

Building brands, enhancing trade promotion, and expanding distribution systems to increase sales both at home and abroad are also very important, she said.

Reindert Dekker, an expert at the Netherlands' Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI), said producers should differentiate products through packaging and ingredients, and diversify their products to meet different groups of customers as well as build brands for their goods.

Convenient packaging has become a growing trend as consumers' daily schedules have become busier, he said, adding that the global demand for natural ingredients would remain strong and not just in traditional markets. Producers need to pay attention to that, he said.

In addition, development of support industries to cater to the development of the processing industry is needed to improve promotions, Nam said.

Demand for clean foodstuff and deeply processed products is increasing both at home and abroad, Chi said.

With the world population expected to reach 8.2 billion in 2030, it will be a major challenge to meet food and foodstuff needs.

The international conference on Vietnam's food industry was organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in collaboration with the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency and the Netherlands' CBI.-VNA