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Bakers transform Western fare to Lao taste

For many years, we heard that bread was Western food and not very popular among Lao people. But today one entrepreneur who is now making bread is delighted with the steady income he earns.

A worker readies bread for packing. --Photo by S. Bouapha

Even though his bread is popular among customers in Vientiane and the northern provinces, SBS bread factory owner Mr Somboun Silisouk continues to improve the quality of his products in a bid to expand his customer base.

He always makes new designs and fillings for his bread, hoping to give customers different eating opportunities every year.

Today, the factory produces 40 types of filling, including coconut, screwpine fruit of the genus Pandanus (bayteui), cream, taro, sesame and vanilla.

It costs 700 to 3,000 kip to make a loaf at the bakery, depending on size. But before his bread found favour with customers, Mr Somboun lost money for several years.

In 2000, he and his wife Ms Saengdao Silisouk started making bread for sale. They started building a brick oven with the aim of making traditional bread using their own two hands.

Ms Saengdao made bread whenever she had time, while her husband earned money by making items from scrap wood.

But he saw that making bread had better earning potential than the furniture he was producing. But with no experience in baking and lacking marketing skills, for a long time their bread was not customers' first choice.

They learnt that the quality must be improved, with customer feedback informing their production methods.

Mr Somboun decided to give up woodwork and began helping his wife to find ways to improve the quality of their bread so that it satisfied their customers. They realised that the raw materials must be the main problem and were causing their bread to be inferior.

So they went in search of quality ingredients, especially wheat flour. They went to China, Thailand and Vietnam to study baking methods.

They also learned how to determine the quality of the wheat flour produced in these countries.

They decided to buy bread-making machines from Thailand. And at the same time they learnt the right way to bread from the owner of the machine manufacturer and a producer of wheat flour.

They both underwent training in Bangkok and also at home, learning from expert Thai bakers. Slowly but surely, they progressed along the road to bread making. As the quality of their bread improved, the products they turned out in the SBS bread factory in Vientiane grew in popularity, starting in 2008.

Then people in the northern provinces began ordering bread from the factory so they could sell it.

Bread is associated with foreign food but Mr Somboun has adjusted the taste to suit Lao people and uses only the best ingredients.

Most of the ingredients have to be imported as Lao farmers don't grow the kind of grain needed to make wheat flour. The cost of raw materials such as the filling ingredients and the wheat flour is high.

To lower costs, Mr Somboun began growing taro and screwpine of the genus Pandanus and other plants in his garden, so he could use them as ingredients in his bread.

But it was some years before these plants bore fruit.

Mr Somboun would like the government to lower the import tax on raw materials so he can compete with similar imported products.

High taxes mean the factory has to keep bread prices high. If the tax on raw materials was lower, the cost of the end product would be lower and his bread would be able to compete with imported products

Import tax reductions would directly support small businesses, creating more job opportunities for local people.

Today, the SBS factory employs more than 10 permanent workers, who earn a monthly salary. It also employs 10 temporary workers who are students and earn a daily wage. They work at the factory when they are not in school.

Mr Somboun says the factory's products are always in line with customer demand. This means that all the bread sold in markets is always new and fresh. He and his wife continue to come up with new designs and fillings for the bread so that their customers don't get bored with the same old flavour.



By Times Reporters
(Latest Update April 7, 2017)


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