PhD defense: Food safety concerns and shopping for daily vegetables in modernizing Vietnam

PhD candidateSCO (Sigrid) Wertheim-Heck G (Gert) Spaargaren 
Co-promoter SR (Sietze) Vellema 
Wageningen UR, Environmental Policy, Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)
DateFriday 20 November 2015
Time13:30 to 15:00
VenueAuditorium, building number 362
Generaal Foulkesweg 1 362
6703 BG Wageningen
0317 – 483592

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Food safety concerns do not drive Vietnamese consumers towards supermarkets yet

Vietnam is one of the world’s largest growth economies. To meet the growing demand for fresh vegetables at declining farmland acreage cultivation methods have intensified with an increase in the often inappropriate application of agricultural inputs. Food safety scandals are widely covered by the public media and 95% of the consumers is heavily perturbed by the safety of the vegetables they consume on a daily basis.

To improve food safety and to restore trust among consumers, authorities in Vietnam stimulate the development of western style supermarkets while reducing traditional (street-) market vending. The government expects supermarkets, which maintain strict food safety management systems and food hygiene standards, to provide a suitable alternative for the less controlled and unhygienic street- and market vending. Policies are designed to influence behavior based on the idea that food safety concerns drive consumers away from traditional markets towards supermarkets. However, only 2% off the vegetables is being purchased in supermarkets. The research reveals how supermarkets do not necessarily fit in the routine organization of the every day lives of different groups of consumers. Some consumers, living in local communities with strong social cohesion, take their time and purchase their vegetables while ‘walking and talking’ in their ‘own’ market. Other, more time constrained consumers, prefer ‘shopping without stopping’, purchasing their vegetables seated on their motorbike while keeping the engine running.

The research shows in what way the different daily shopping practices prevalent in Vietnam are embedded within the wider range of every day life activities and social interdependencies, and how these have evolved over time. Vietnamese consumers appear creative and skilled in coping with food safety risks. They importantly rely on their own practical know-how in discerning safe vegetables, while attaching less importance to anonymous and objective assurance systems and certificates known from supermarkets and controlled chains. This study shows that western models are not readily applicable within the Asian context and thus warns against making the much needed food safety policies dependent on a single, ideal-typical (supermarket) model.

Fresh Academy: A practical knowledge and training institute

A practical knowledge and training institute to support the development of the agrifood sector in Vietnam.


Horticulture in Vietnam has been growing fast in the past few decades. While rapid economic and population growth has imposed a high pressure on horticulture production, there is still a large potential for productivity improvement for the domestic market as well as exporting but at the same time the concerns on food safety (overuse and miss use of agrichemicals, health risks for workers and consumers) also demand for effective solutions.

Growing conditions in Vietnam show a wide variation due to different climatic zones and altitudes. For example, Dalat’s high altitude and temperate climate is suitable for greenhouse production of ‘European’ vegetables and flowers whereas in the Red river delta horticultural production is very seasonal due to a huge difference between the very cool winter and hot humid summer. Thus, the Vietnamese horticultural sector requires application of modern technology and knowledge with a dedicated regional scope.

The Vietnamese governmental institutes are not very strong on practical and applied knowledge, especially on protected agriculture sector because their main scope is academic research and education. However, there is an increasing awareness and willingness to promote applied science and technology in regular education and practical training.

The Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of food and agriculture products, thanks to its modern and innovative technology. A number of Dutch companies have actively participated in Vietnamese agrifood sector and some of them include knowledge transfer in their normal scope, but an integrated and coordinated approach is still missing.

Fresh Studio, since long time, has seen the need to structurally invest in applied knowledge development in the Vietnamese agrifood sector. Fresh Studio actually has taken the initiative in stimulating (more) knowledge-to-knowledge cooperation through R&D and consultancy, building knowledge and skills in vegetable, potato and fruit supply chains. A partnership in horticulture between the Netherlands and Vietnam was launched in March 2013 (HortiViN) to pave the way for long term collaboration between the governments, academic institutes and companies in order to support Vietnam to become a major player in horticulture and address the aforementioned challenges.


Taking into account all above issues, the partners in the project decided to establish the ‘Fresh Academy’, a practical knowledge and training institute that supports the development of the Vietnamese agrifood sector towards a sustainable, healthy and upgraded industry, through sharing knowledge and skills in the production-, postharvest- and distribution stages of the supply chain.

The Fresh Academy aims to cover all primary agricultural produce of the whole country on the long run. However, for this initial project, the priority is on vegetables and ornamental products that are grown under protected and controlled environments.