Nham and Jon
Nham and Jon
Jamie Hardesty

Vietnamese entrepreneurs hope to take North East by storm with organic food offering

An entrepreneurial brother and sister duo, who came to the UK from Vietnam as refugees, are turning to crowdfunding in a bid to bring their allergen and preservative-free Vietnamese and East Asian sauces to the market.

Jon Mao and Nham Lee are using the Crowdfunder platform to launch new business Vi, which means flavour in Vietnamese, in the hope they can raise the £60,000 they need to start full scale specialist production and plug what they believe is a gap in the market for a range of ready-made sauces with organic, traceable ingredients.

Although the business plan will initially see the products marketed direct to consumers, the duo has already had interest from two major UK retailers, and Nham took part in a UK Department for International Trade delegation to Dubai, to discuss export potential.

The venture will see the company work alongside local charity partners and could see up to 10 new jobs created over the next two years.

Crowdfunding, where investors pledge an amount of money in return for related rewards or even a stake in the business, is becoming an increasing popular way for those with a good idea and a sound business plan to secure capital to fund a startup.

Research from the equity funding platform Seedrs shows that food and drink businesses offer the highest rate of returns for investors, with home and personal being the second best performing sector.

The pair came up with the idea for Vi after both their daughters were diagnosed with eczema and Nham started to look at the role that diet plays in allergies and other conditions.

“I was often cooking separate meals to make sure I was screening out any potential allergens, and I thought about the thousands of other families who were probably doing the same thing every night,” said Nham.

“There is a perception that convenience food equals processed and tasteless, but that does not have to be the case. People lead busy lives, and want tasty, healthy food that can be on the table in minutes, without worrying about whether the ingredients suit everyone’s dietary needs.

“The growing trend for clean eating plus our own research and consumer testing has shown there is a real demand out there for tasty, premium food without any additives or preservatives, that all the family can enjoy.”

“I discussed it with my brother Jon, a chef and owner of the Happy Chef takeway in Blyth, and we developed the idea from there. The new sauces are adapted from our own family recipes which Jon uses, without losing quality or flavour. All people have to do is prepare their meat or vegetables, and pour over the sauce.”

Jon and Nham’s parents arrived in the UK with their five children after fleeing Vietnam in the 1980s, settling in the North East and setting up a traditional East Asian takeaway.

“Nham and I have worked behind the scenes in the food industry for our parents since we were small, peeling vegetables and preparing food, so potential investors can be reassured that we are not business novices, and have first-hand experience of the hard graft involved,” said Jon.

“Although we have had the idea of creating a new range of allergen-free sauces for a while, we did not want to go down the traditional route of finding an investor. Both Nham and I are experienced business owners and we wanted to keep this new venture a family-run business rather than hand over control to someone else.

“We see crowdfunding as an ideal way to give consumers a stake in our journey, and to receive some great product rewards in return for their investment.

Depending on the level of the pledge, investors in Vi can choose from rewards including a year’s supply of sauces, branded gift packs and tableware, rice cookers and food warmers, and the chance to see their name on the ‘Heroes Wall’ on Vi’s premises and website.

“Cooking good food and eating together is a huge part of Vietnamese culture, and at Vi we work hard to ensure all our ingredients are traceable to reputable suppliers, do not contain any additive or preservatives,” added Jon.

“We tested the Vi range alongside the mainstream sauces we create from our existing takeaway and consumers were unable to taste the difference, so we know we have the recipes right and our range will suit all the family, not just those with allergies or special dietary needs.

“Nham and I are very excited about the move and hope people will see the business potential and really want to get behind our crowdfunding efforts to allow us to keep the quality of our product, while increasing production and hopefully eventually seeing our sauces in delis and supermarkets across the UK.”

The pair already have the keys to a new production unit in Ashington, and are planning to give consumers a taste of the new products at forthcoming street food festivals, popup shops and events across the North East.

To find out more about Vi on Crowdfunder click here.

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