A mom-trepreneur is cooking up and delivering balanced organic meals for Hanoi’s youngest residents, saving families time and alleviating food safety worries.
Lucy Delbreil did not foresee herself building a life in Vietnam, let alone becoming an entrepreneur. A French born Brazilian, Lucy moved to Hanoi with her husband in 2015 with the intention of reinventing her career. Before living in Hanoi, she worked in Portugal in a bank.
Although challenged with a new place plus expecting her son, she quickly integrated herself into the Hanoi community. She became involved with the Hanoi International Womens Club (HIWC). It was here that the conversations started about organic food initiatives in Hanoi, especially feeding safe food to their children.
“It was hard in the beginning. Many things were changing – career, having a baby, but it was all very motivating.”
HIWC is funding a project for VECO, an NGO that is focused on sustainable agriculture for Vietnam. Food is often labeled organic in Vietnam, but knowing where it comes from is rare. She raised her food safety concerns at her weekly mothers group.
“Every Tuesday we had a baby group. It was really nice, we talked about everything. Having children is a wonderful time, but it can be lonely. It was nice to have friends.”
One topic of concern was getting their children to eat. One mother mentioned a baby food café. She quickly brought her son and he ate everything. It made her so happy!
Her issues were presentation and safety. It wasn’t baby friendly. The porridge came out in a giant adult-sized bowl and the juice in a tall glass. Also, was this food organic and safe for babies? She didn’t like not knowing. That night she enthusiastically told her husband about her experience at the café. Then inspiration struck.
A friend suggested she try a delivery service first to see if people would buy regularly. The investment was less risky, because she could use any unsold product. All her recipe ideas were things she was already cooking for her baby.
“At first they sleep a lot and you have time to cook! When he started eating his own food, I had the idea to try all different recipes. Fresh and homemade is nicer and has better texture.”
She starts explaining the cooking process. When a soup starts it is watery. Babies don’t like that , you need the right ingredients to make the soup thick.
Lucy wasn’t a baby chef overnight, but she did leap over the trial and error period by taking an online course.
“I did an online workshop on infant nutrition. I learned how to put the right amount of meat, vegetables, fiber, also really nice recipes. “
Armed with nutritional knowledge and a trove of recipes, she needed a consistent supply of safe food.
VECO is focused on working with organic fields and farmers in Vietnam, and they were able to fast track this process for her. In one day she connected with someone who fed her all the information she needed on organic labeling in Vietnam. She found that many shops had false organic labeling.
PGS is the only internationally certified organic label in Vietnam. When displayed, it indicates that every link of the supply chain is safe. National labels Vietgap/gahp and vinEco, comply to good agricultural practices, are safe (not organic), and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Armed with her suppliers and recipes, it was time to test the product with the target market: babies. She brought samples to the mothers group. The feedback was glowing. The babies ate it all and moms were willing to pay.
Lucy makes a point of trying to buy as locally as possible. If a product is of questionable origin, she’ll go for the import. Her recipes follow the French nutrition chart, a more international approach to accommodate the Hanoi expat community.
“It’s not just a delivery service, it’s something that’s close to you, close to my customers.”
“Everything is broth based and has lots of vegetables. The color at the bottom is always the broth. On the top is a different ingredient, a fiber. “
Small farmer organic initiatives are growing thanks to VECO, HIWC, and Lucy’s Petit Potage. Now the Vietnamese community is becoming more interested in organic foods.
Recently she participated in opening an organic food stand at a local market. This was something new in Vietnam, where people are generally loyal to one vendor.
Lucy reflects on what road Hanoi has put her on. She never imagined herself an entrepreneur, although when comparing her life here to her life at home she likes to paint a picture:
“At home I would have stayed at the bank, had a short maternity leave. I would have the idea but I don’t think there is a market to fill. People still buy organic cans from the supermarket. People are really open in Hanoi. “
Hanoi has in interesting way of presenting opportunities one never imagined possible. This could be due to places like ClickSpace, offering newcomers a bridge into the expat and Vietnamese community.
“I came to ClickSpace every day. It was a very nice environment for me to work. Here I met my designer, photographer, and my marketing people. Oli and Jay from open mic did the menu. Julie Vola did the photos.“
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