Vietnam seeks investors for edible bird’s nest industry

Birds nestEdible bird’s nests, made of solidified saliva of Asian swiftlets, are becoming more and more popular as the hunger for one of the most expensive foods keeps rising among Asia’s middle class.

The soaring appetite stems mainly from China, but in countries such as Vietnam bird’s nest are also experiencing rising demand.

The global market is currently estimated at as much as $5 billion, mainly catering to wealthy East Asian and US consumers. The main producers of the specialty food, Malaysia and Indonesia, are now being challenged by Vietnam which is seeking investors to boost the bird’s nest industry.

Edible nests sell for $1,000-$1,500 per kilogramme wholesale and about $2,500 per kilogramme for end-consumers in Asia. Called the “Caviar of the East”, traders are now also looking for new markets such as the Gulf countries and offer not just nests, but also derived products such as cosmetics, porridge, jelly and coffee.

Indonesia produces about 70 per cent of the world’s bird’s nest, followed by Malaysia with 20 per cent, and Thailand. Vietnam through it investment firm VinaCapital Group is now aiming to set up production zones for bird’s nests together with investors. A company, Yen Viet Joijnt Stock Co, has already been founded that launched a 100,000 bird firm in central Vietnam.

Vietnam’s bird’s nest industry, estimated to generate $200 million in revenue a year, is increasing as much as 25 per cent annually, industry experts say.

In coastal Phan Rang Tham Cham city, local officials are working on expanding the province’s bird’s nest industry to 2.8 million birds by 2020. The largest bird nest house in the province now generates about $50,000 of bird’s nests monthly, according to a Bloomberg report.

Edible bird’s nests, consumed in China since 400 years, are supposedly rich in nutrients, which are traditionally believed to provide health benefits such as aiding digestion, raising libido, improving the voice, alleviating asthma, improving focus and an overall benefit to the immune system. Currently, Hong Kong and the US are the largest importers of bird’s nests. For rare red nests, the price-per-kilogramme can reach up to $10,000.

The most famous use of edible birds nest is bird’s nest soup, a delicacyin Chinese cuisine. In addition, edible bird’s nests can be used as an ingredient in many other dishes, they can be cooked with rice to produce bird’s nest congee (rice porridge) or bird’s nest boiled rice, or it can be added to egg tarts and other desserts. Ready to eat bird’s nest jelly is available in jars as a commercial product. 

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Arno Maierbrugger

Business journalist

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