Soya Soaks Into Market, Considers Exports

Hagar Soya, a spin-off company of the Swiss NGO Hagar, officially launched its soya milk factory on Tuesday, the first of its kind in the country.

“Once we’ve proven we can produce and sell in Cambodia, we will look at exporting our products,” said Gregg Burgess, Hagar Soya’s managing director.

The $1.2 million factory was fi­nanced by Hagar, Hagar Soya’s majority shareholder, and $450,000 in equity financing from the Inter­national Finance Cor­poration, the private sector arm of the World Bank.

Half of the company’s 41 em­ployees were destitute women living in Hagar’s shelter or foster homes. They now earn $50 per month at the factory.

Hagar, the NGO, operated a small-scale, 10-employee soya milk production for a few years before officials began to discuss turning it into a separate company. Now, with assistance and fi­nancing from the Mekong Pri­vate Sector Development Facility, an IFC initiative, and a group of international donors, soya milk production will jump from a maximum of 500 liters per day to 12,000.

The key to success was switching from producing fresh soya milk to milk that does not require refrigeration. The new factory contains ultra-high temperature processing technology and special imported packaging to give the product a longer shelf life.

Though the new factory only directly employs about 30 more people than the old fresh soya milk operation, speakers at Tues­day’s launch talked about the factory’s ripple effect.

“The factory will create more money than jobs,” said Pierre Tami, executive director of Ha­gar. “But it creates more jobs in the countryside.”

Soybean farmers in Kompong Cham province produce about 30,000 tons of soybeans annually and sell mostly to Thailand or Vietnam, Second Deputy Gov­er­nor Mao Phirun said on Tues­day.

The new factory uses 100 kg of soybeans per hour, Burgess said, which makes about 1,000 liters of soy milk. If the factory produces about 6,000 liters of milk a day, which Burgess said it would initially, then it would use about 219 tons of soybeans per year.

“Increasing the export of products made from local materials is the first priority of my ministry,” Suy Sem, minister of industry, mines and energy, said at the factory launch, which included Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk on the guest list.

The factory is important because it provides an export outlet for domestic agricultural products, said Andrew Mc­Naughton, a Commerce Ministry adviser.

“It’s a trailblazer,” he said.

Hagar Soya, which hired former employees of Coca Cola, Pepsi and Unilever, will first market the product in Phnom Penh, and then expand to provincial towns, including Battambang, Siem Reap and Kompong Cham, Burgess said. Exports remain a ways off, but So! Soya, the company’s brand soya milk product, should be in the markets later this week, he said. Though it may be a few years before the company turns a profit, MPDF Regional Manager Adam Sack said “all the profit that can be distributed” will go toward Hagar’s humanitarian work. (Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)

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