Ma Thuzar Myint has been involved in Myanmar’s food and beverage industry for more than two decades. She tells Jessica Mudditt of her passion for improving service and hygiene standards.
Ma Thuzar Myint is the owner of Nature’s Own Preserves, Shwe Yin Mar Coffee, and Vice-President of Myanmar Chef’s Association. Her father, an Armenian, started the family’s coffee business in Yangon in 1982 – a year before she completed her degree as a chemical engineer and postgraduate food programmer in Singapore.
By the time Myanmar’s economy had started to open up in the nineties, Ma Thuzar Myint was leading the company and supplying coffee to all the prestigious hotels. Her business partner was the son of the country’s military intelligence, Khin Nyunt, whom she credits with creating a coffee culture in Myanmar through his Café Aroma business. During the years both father and son spent under house arrest, her business took a dip.
“Nowadays, the coffee market is very competitive because so many businesspeople have come to Myanmar and awareness about coffee is high.”
It’s so high, in fact, that competition has meant Shwe Yin Mar Coffee hasn’t put up her prices up in eight years. However, Ma Thuzar Myint said that she’s able to compete against the slew of foreign brands that have entered Myanmar’s market by keeping her profit margins low, and because the cost of labour remains relatively cheap. She told InDepth that her biggest overhead is transport, as supplies must be sent individually to the 20 Citymart stores in Yangon – and on a weekly basis in order to maintain freshness.
“It’s very time consuming – a lot of time is wasted in traffic,” she lamented.
Ma Thuzar Myint said she steers clear of importing raw materials from China for her preserves, due to quality concerns.
“I only source from the United States and France. Myanmar hoteliers and consumers are extremely price conscious so they tend not to order my brands. Their only focus is on their profits. I’m a chemical engineer and I studied food programming at the post-graduate level, so I understand the importance of hygiene.”
She supplies primarily to foreign food and beverage managers and has peace of mind in the knowledge that everything she puts out in the market is completely safe for the consumer, “I can feed my products to my granddaughter – it’s not harmful.”
Over the years, in her position as vice-president of the Myanmar Chefs Association (MCA), Ma Thuzar Myint has repeatedly provided safety and hygiene training to members of Myanmar’s food and beverage industry. However, she said she remains frustrated by what appears to be a lack of willingness to embrace higher standards in hygiene.
“Unfortunately, the attitude is that doing something like washing your hands or putting your hair in a hair-net is an extra job that doesn’t need to be done.”
She said that the primary obstacle to better education across the food and beverage industry – which is growing enormously due to the influx of tourists – is the lack of specialised training institutions in Myanmar. She believes such institutions are critical to developing improved, industry-wide standards.
“Myanmar people don’t want to spend money on technicians and there is also a lack of equipment. Thailand has so many universities for food technology, but in Myanmar there is no institute for food science and technology. This is something we must change.”
She expressed eagerness for the new government to tackle the problem of unhygienic street food and said that the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) should provide public health training to vendors and undertake strict monitoring of hygiene standards after issuing permits to vendors.
She told InDepth that she has some concerns about local food manufacturers keeping with increased competition when Myanmar joins the ASEAN Economic Community at the start of 2018.
However, Ma Thuzar Myint said she welcomes major global brands such as Unilever and Nestle, who have set up manufacturing plants in Myanmar.
“Our country has a lot of good land and soil – we can grow anything. I am happy to see products sold at the finished stage because there’s value added. I welcome increased foreign investment in Myanmar.”