Viet Nam: Gac fruit – the “fruit from heaven” entering Western markets
Less than two years ago, the idea was born to create a line of functional food products based on Vietnamese herbs and fruits with a traditionally known health benefit.

The project was initiated by a Vietnamese entrepreneur, Madame Thai Huong, who had previously established a new milk business in Viet Nam to improve the nutritional situation, especially of Vietnamese children

Aware that the treasures of Viet Nam's flora – used in Vietnamese Traditional Medicine (ThuocNam/Thuoc Bac) ̶ are largely unknown in the Western world, her motivation was not only to bring these treasures to the Western markets, but also to set up the cultivation of some selected herbs and fruit from her home province of Nghe Anh. Located in Viet Nam’s Northern Central region and bordering with Laos to the West, Nghe Anh (also the home province of Ho Chi Minh) has a poor infrastructure and low average income. Due to its harsh climate, this region does not support cultivation of better known Vietnamese fruit such as rambutan, longan and dragon fruit, whose export is generating economic growth in Southern Viet Nam.

A German consulting firm, analyze & realize (a&r), was engaged to support the newly founded company TH Herbals in the conceptualization and coordination of the development and production of a food product line suitable for the US market. Having previously managed the establishment of a natural product company in Malaysia, analyze & realize was a good fit with the needs of Madame Thai Huong and the young TH Herbals team.

Madame Thai Huong had the ambitious plan to perform the development of a line of market ready products within 18 months. Analyze & realize´s strong network of partners was of great support and a team of international experts in development and marketing made this idea happen.

Together with the TH Herbals team, a&r screened the Vietnamese flora for plants that met a number of criteria: a proven health benefit, safe for human consumption, and cultivatable in the Northern region of Viet Nam.

From a rich choice of tasty and healthy fruits and herbs, a&r and the TH Herbals team selected the gac fruit as the “flagship” ingredient for the product line because of its very high nutrient content, its special appearance and its beautiful color.

Gac fruit (Momordica cochinchinensis) is indigenous to Southeast Asia, and is esteemed in these countries for promoting longevity, vitality and health. This is due to its high nutritional value, especially that of the red gac aril, the dark red fruit pulp, which surrounds the large seeds of the fruit. The aril contains extremely high amounts of ß-carotene (pro-vitamin A) and lycopene (the red color also contained in tomatoes). The lycopene content of gac aril is 40 times higher than that of tomatoes.

Vietnamese people use gac aril to prepare the traditional meal Xoi Gac, red sticky rice, which is served on ceremonies such weddings or New Year celebrations (Tet).

In Vietnamese Traditional Medicine, gac aril is used to treat infantile rachitis, dry eyes, and night blindness. Recently, the gấc fruit has received political attention as a “weapon” against children's malnutrition in Việt Nam. A documented vitamin A deficiency prevalent among Vietnamese children led to a number of WHO-supported government nutrition education programs aimed at training the rural population to cover their Vitamin A demand by regular consumption of crops rich in vitamin A. One such crop is the gac fruit.

Five different beverage concepts combined gac aril with various beneficial Vietnamese herbs: Centella asiatica (also known as Gotu kola), Wild Passion fruit (Passiflora foetida), and leaves of the persimmon tree (Diospyros kaki), among others, which were specifically selected to promote certain health benefits.

The European food development lab NIZO developed unique tasting beverages from a combination of herbal infusions and fruit juices. At the same time, a US-based marketing agency Gauger & Associates created a brand image and product appearance. Continuous cooperation with regulatory advisors during the development process guaranteed that the products are in accordance with the US food regulations.

After 18 months of hard work, the first products left the production conveyor belts of a US co-packer, and in March 2015 the Total Happiness Naturals product line was presented at EXPO West in Anaheim, California, the largest US trade show for natural products. For the research and development team, it was very exciting to anticipate how the beverages would be perceived, as it is a very unique combination of fruits and herbs with a virtually unknown signature ingredient to date – the gac fruit.

Since its supply chain is still being established and the raw material production in Viet Nam is running on a rather small scale as of yet, TH Herbals decided to start with a regional launch at the US West Coast. The US national roll-out is planned for 2016.

At the time of writing, a&r has successfully completed this project for TH Herbals. From now on, the Vietnamese Company will take over and expand cultivation, processing and marketing of the traditional fruits and herbs from the Northern region of Viet Nam.

This project is a great example how local traditional products can be brought to the global wellness market by local investment combined with knowledge transfer from international experts of high quality research and product development.

Iris Hardewig is a Senior Consultant at the German consulting company analyze & realize.

For more information please contact:

Further reading:

Kha , T.C., Nguyen, M.H., , Roach, P.D., Parks S.E., Stathopoulos, C. 2013. Gac Fruit: Nutrient and

Phytochemical Composition, and Options for Processing. Food Rev. Int., 29:1, 92-106

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