Cuong Pham’s family left Vietnam by boat in 1979, after his father’s association with U.S. agencies during the war made it too “difficult” to continue living there. Three decades later, Cuong returned to Phu Quoc, an island off the country’s southern coast, to make fish sauce.
Fish sauce is the essential condiment of Southeast Asian cuisine. Made from fermented anchovies, it gives Vietnamese and Thai dishes their distinctive sweet-sour taste. More than 95% of Vietnamese households use fish sauce daily, tossing it into everything from noodles to dipping sauce.
In previous decades, housewives bought unmarked jars at the local market. Today, they’ve developed fierce brand loyalty. Three sauces manufactured by Masan Consumer Corp. make up 76% of the domestic market, which this year is forecast to top $400 million. New York-based private equity firm KKR recently increased its stake in Masan to $359 million—the largest investment a private equity firm has ever made in Vietnam.
But Cuong and the other approximately 90 Phu Quoc producers want consumers to see their fermented condiment as much more than a household staple.
Read more. [Image: Nguyen Huy Kham/Reuters]