SƠN LA’s Geographical Indication strategy for arabica coffee has proven to be a successful based on study performed three years after the registration announcement.
The project focus during the first three years has been on training and implementation of farming and (post) harvesting quality standards as well as on regional institutional development. Without too much international marketing promotion, the region has already been able to establish a good reputation and export around 90% of its green arabica beans for a premium price to major international coffee markets. SƠN LA’s ambitions go further though: the coming years investment will focus on development and promotion of new (specialty) coffee varieties, export growth of roasted beans, instant coffees and even coffee cherry flower teas, supported by an international regional brand promotion campaign for SƠN LA.
SƠN LA is a region in the North of Vietnam, famous for its verdant rolling tea plantations. SƠN LA also has many coffee plantations at the altitude of 1000m, a rarity in Vietnam, where the Central Plateau seldom reaches altitudes beyond 600m. In addition to its high attitude, other suitable geographical and weather conditions such as fertile soil and high temperature fluctuation between day and night positively impact the coffee bean quality. Coffee production goes back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when French colonialists began planting coffee in SƠN LA and other northern provinces.
In the past decades, SƠN LA has developed into a major Arabica coffee producing hub of Vietnam. The total coffee production area in SƠN LA is around 20,000 ha; its production output ranges from 30,000-40,000 tons per year. Coffee is harvested by hand, which is a long tradition to ensure high quality with even ripeness. Almost 99% of its total output is raw bean and is destined to export markets such as the EU, the Middle East, and the US.
In 2017 Vietnam’s SƠN LA Arabica coffee association announced the registration of its geographical indication. The SƠN LA coffee association was established in 2017 with the main purpose to develop and promote a sustainable coffee sector in SƠN LA and the management the use of GI SƠN LA coffee brand according to established quality norms.
Three years later, the region has made impressive progress. The regional coffee board of SƠN LA coordinated the transformation of SƠN LA arabica coffee with a strong accent on quality, value creation and environmental and social impact.
A large investment was made in the training of local farmers to comply with pre-defined good. agricultural practices, (post) harvesting standards and sustainable soil management. As part of a sustainable production strategies, farmers planted coffee trees against slope erosion and planted fruit trees such as plum and avocado as shade tree on their coffee plantations. Farmers were also trained to selectively hand-pick ripe cherries to increase coffee quality and prolong the harvesting season, thus reducing their dependence on collectors/ traders.
Association members state that the Geographical Indication of SƠN LA araba coffee adds value when introducing their products to new customers and new markets. It plays an important role in promoting the origin of the coffee and increasing the credibility of the exporters, due to the strict quality criteria members need to comply with. In addition to a marketing and communication tool, it is also an essential element of the quality assurance compliance for the exporters.
Despite the achievements during the first years, SƠN LA coffee association has more ambitions for the coming period:
Quality improvements: replanting of a new tree with new variety (THA1) during the next 5 years, developing a higher quality of arabica coffee bean with higher yields to replace old and low quality Catimor trees.
Sustainable production: increase the percentage of production areas with 4C, UTZ and organic certification.
Development of more refined post-harvesting and processing activities/capacity: growth of its processing capacity for drying/washing, roasting and grinding and development of branded consumer products such as roasted beans, ground coffee instant coffees and cherry blossom teas. The ambition is that between10-15% of all green coffee beans produced in SƠN LA will be used for value added processing.
Investment in international and regional marketing promotion activities to promote the SƠN LA coffee brand.
Links to SƠN LA coffee companies licensed to use GI: sono Minh Tien Coffee, Bich Thao Coffe, Son La Coffee e Phuc Sinh Coffee.
Source: Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency