THE ART of making confections has had a long tradition in many cultures throughout the world – from the caveman discovering wild honey to the production of sophisticated fine Swiss chocolate. Our fondness for sweet-tasting delights has spurred the creation of countless amazing types of candy, chocolate, baked goods, and even confectioneries unique to certain cultures. But with the growth of globalisation over the past 50 years, western-style confectioneries have increasingly made their way into more traditional markets across the globe.
Savall Chocolate is among many companies that recognise the growing potential of the Asian market. The old Spanish manufacturer of confectioneries and pastries moved their operations from Barcelona to Da Nang, Vietnam about four years ago. Founder and chef Víctor Ceano Savall sat down with FoodPacific Manufacturing Journal correspondent Anthony Evans for a chat about the sweet and the not-so-sweet side of operating in Da Nang.
Víctor Ceano Savall, Chef and founder of Savall Chocolate in Da Nang
Savall Chocolate has its origins in Spain. Could you tell us about the history of your company?
The Savall family business started operations in the center of Barcelona Spain back in 1892 when my great-great-grandfather started a chocolate and candy manufacturing factory. From the start, our product development and manufacturing always focused on quality, and always target the high end of the market. Even back then the company had markets in the US as well as leading retailers and hotels throughout Spain. I got involved with the business as a child, training under my grandfather for many years, acquiring his knowledge and passion for the trade.
What prompted your decision to move operations, and why Vietnam?
When I was young, I had the privilege to travel to many different countries for holidays with my family, and Vietnam became a regular destination for us. I guess you can say there were a number of reasons we re-established Savall Chocolate here in Vietnam. The business growth Vietnam has been experiencing over the last 20 years and the optimism of the people was definitely motivating factors. As you can appreciate, Europe is not the most optimistic place to be operating a business these days, and everything about our move to Vietnam made economic sense.
What was the company’s experience with setting up and operating a business in Vietnam?
After visiting Vietnam a number of times over the years, I came to understand more about the Vietnamese culture, which helped a great deal when we decided to set up operations here. However, as with all foreigners establishing a business in Vietnam, you need a good local go-between that assists with things like translations and directing us through the government maze of documents and stamps. We were very fortunate with regard to having great support during the period we were establishing our operations here.
Please tell us about the product range of chocolates and confectioneries from Savall.
At first, we focused on manufacturing candies as we found it to be more stable with regards to the shelf life of the product. We were a bit apprehensive in the beginning to develop a chocolate product range as the hot weather Da Nang experiences during the year made it a bit difficult to maintain product quality. However, more and more customers were requesting chocolate products, which prompted us to expand our product range. Presently, we offer a wide variety of chocolate bonbonniere (a box of bonbons), containing an assortment of chocolate bonbons of many different flavours such as coconut and strawberry truffle, cashew nut nougat, lime bonbon, cashew nut catànies, cashew nut nougat, to name a few. Our candy products range here includes a wide assortment of lollipops in a variety of flavors, and we also manufacture some traditional Vietnamese sweets as well such as peanut candy, coconut and cacao ribbons, and black sesame candy. Another growth area of our business, particularly amongst the large hotels and resorts, is our candy and chocolate customisation where we produce a variety of products designed and branded for specific customers.
Do you find that the Asian taste for chocolate and confectioneries differs from that of Europeans’, and does that influence your product design decisions?
I have always used my grandfather’s recipes, and still do to a great extent. However, tastes do differ from culture to culture, and over the years we have undertaken product development with this in mind and experimented with different flavour combinations, levels of sweetness, and bitterness. Regarding chocolate, unfortunately, most Vietnamese have only been exposed to the cheaper, supermarket chocolate, which is made from compound chocolate and palm oil, so they get a surprise when they taste the real deal. Some people like the sweetness of the white chocolate, some like the middle of the road taste of our milk chocolate range, and some prefer the bitter taste of our dark chocolate options. At Savall, we try to cater to the broad range of tastes by including a variety of chocolate options in each bonbonnière we produce.
Are there any plans to expand or diversify on your present product range in the future?
As with all businesses, it is always important to have a vision of the future. At Savall, we try hard to understand future customer demands and develop products to meet those demands. Presently we are starting to develop our frozen confectionery product range which includes popsicles and ice cream, which is really exciting for us. Ice cream sales, as with chocolate, has been steadily growing here in Vietnam for a number of years now, so it was an obvious choice for the diversification of our product range.
From where do you source your ingredients and raw materials?
From the beginning, we have always focused on quality, which starts with the raw materials. The local markets provide us with just about all the ingredients we need, with the exception of whipping cream, which we import. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese dairy industry, although growing, still can’t provide the quality of cream we require, we use the milk from Dalat, but the cream doesn’t make the grade. So apart from the whipping cream, we are able to locally source all the other raw materials we require that meet the quality standard we demand.
Is there a particular market you target?
Although things have changed somewhat since the coronavirus pandemic closed the international borders. Our main customer base had been the 5 Star resorts and hotels here in Vietnam, some retail outlets, and some online sales. We will continue to service these markets when the situation begins to improve, but as with other businesses in the same situation, we are also developing strategies to expand our retail markets to non-tourist base companies to a greater extent, which is something we’ve been working on for a while.
Are there any plans to develop an export market for your product?
A great deal to do with our future growth depends a lot on our manufacturing capacity, and our ability to maintain product quality during transportation. Presently we are negotiating with a Hong Kong distributor to supply our products for that market, but at the moment most of our marketing and sales effort focuses predominantly on the Vietnamese markets, which is quite substantial.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered regarding your manufacturing operations?
At first our operations were somewhat labour-intensive and a lot of our production was time-consuming. However, over the years we have developed and made a number of our own processing machines from scratch, which has helped us improve our operation tremendously. There is always a need for continuous improvement when it comes to manufacturing operations, and particularly as we diversify our product range to include frozen confectioneries’. So, I can see that there are many new challenges on the horizon we are yet to face. - ANTHONY EVANS
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