Expert Tells Brunei Food Industry To ‘Stop Snacking’

Bandar Seri Begawan – Food manufacturers in Brunei need to produce
more “essential” food items in order to become more competitive and to
raise consumer confidence in their products, a senior lecturer of
analytical chemistry and food chemistry at Universiti Brunei Darussalam
(UBD) told The Brunei Times yesterday.

Following the award presentation at the Sheraton Mama Hotel for the
Best National Product 2009, awarded to a chicken frankfurter with
cheese, Dr Hj Ibrahim Hj Abd Rahman said that local manufacturers were
currently producing food products such as crisps, crackers and sauces,
which he argued were “nonessential, side” food items.

“We should be producing food that is necessary,” he said.

Essential foods include meat products and processed food as well as everyday foodstuffs, such as cooking oil, he explained.

Dr Hj Ibrahim said that among the reasons food manufacturers were
not focusing on essential food items was the low demand due to the
country’s small population. “If the population is very small and you
have a big industry, then where are you going to sell it (the
products)? Who is going to buy it? This is over production, “he said.

He also felt that consumer confidence in Brunei products was low,
while local cost of production was high because of aspects such as
relatively high rates of pay due to the Sultanate’s high standard of

Being competitive in producing essential food products, however,
requires a large industry, he said. This created a barrier deterring
local entrepreneurs from entering the market as many were often afraid
of the high risks involved. “If anything happens, who will back them
up?” he said.

“This is why they often start small and why we are seeing more non-essential goods,” he explained.

However, Dr Hj Ibrahim said that halal meat products was one avenue
that would beef up Brunei’s competitiveness against neighbouring
countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore or the Philippines.

“We are in a good position, in a way. Brunei is very small, but we
are strong in Islam,” he said. He added that this would boost consumer
confidence in Brunei halal products, particularly among Muslim
customers outside the country. “When we say it’s halal, they know it is
halal,” he said.

Dr Hj Ibrahim explained that although many countries sell halal food
products, customers in international markets might still doubt buying
imported halal products. Brunei’s strong Islamic foundation, however,
would prove a strong guarantee for anxious customers.

“This is Brunei’s strength. Even if it is slightly (more) expensive,
people will be confident in our halal (guarantee), so nobody will
worry,” he said.

Dr Hj Ibrahim added that once more of this type of essential product
is developed, manufacturers could tap into overseas markets. “Like
Japan, they are looking for a country which produces halal products.
Brunei is the right place to export (to them). This means we have to
enhance this sector and take (advantage) of this opportunity. And we
are in the process of doing this (now),” he said.

However, he said that Brunei has been progressing well over the past
10 years in terms of food production, though more needs to be done to
develop local production.

By targeting the export market with such products, Dr Hj Ibrahim
explained, benefits will spill over to the local halal meat product
domestic market.

“Bruneians are more confident (in halal products) if the food comes
from their own country since it is monitored by the Ministry of
Religious Affairs. So they are assured of the product and its quality,”
he said.

Director of Agriculture Hjh Normah Suria Hayati PJDSM DSU (Dr) Hj
Mohd Jamil AlSufri supported the professors call for local food
manufacturers to expand into producing more essential products.

She acknowledged this challenge and urged companies to work with the department towards this goal.

The Agriculture Department’s “incubator programmes” on good
manufacturing practices is just one of the mechanisms that can be used
to help food producers develop their products in processing and
packaging so that they can meet international standards, she added.

Hjh Normah said that the government also played a role of bringing
in investors to help local companies access international markets.– Courtesy of The Brunei Times