Tran Quoc Trong cannot remember how many times his efforts to turn dragon fruit, whose prices traditionally drop with abundant crops, into wine failed when he tried to make the alcoholic beverage to cope with a price plunge.
A booming crop of dragon fruit, a red-skinned and white-fleshed tropical fruit that is good for health, does not usually mean good news for growers because prices will slump during a supply surplus.
There is no exception for the fruit growers in Long An, a province only 55km from Ho Chi Minh City, where Trong lives.
The man then thought up a way to take advantage of the supply surplus in order to produce something to offset the loss when prices go down, and dragon fruit wine was his choice.
He said the idea of turning the fruit into wine flashed into his mind in 2011, and it took him more than two years and over VND2 billion (US$94,135) to see his manufacturing plant begin working properly in mid-2013.
“I tried out new formulas for the wine on a weekly basis, and all of the results were the same: they failed to produce a single drop of wine,” Trong said at his facility, home to nearly 100 stainless steel tanks for fermentation.
The desperate farmer was still struggling with his project when he met experts in Tien Giang, a neighboring province, who lent him a helpful hand.
“I had to bring my fermentation equipment to Tien Giang to discuss with the experts there,” Trong said. “After hundreds of meetings over nearly a year, I was finally able to produce the dragon fruit wine with a 90 percent success rate.”
Upon the initial success, Trong pumped more than VND1.5 billion ($70,602) into the project. Most of the investment was used to buy the stainless steel tanks, machinery and equipment.
Trong said the amount of sugar and yeast, the temperature and fermentation time are crucial factors in making dragon fruit wine.
“The selected dragon fruit must have no pesticide residues, otherwise it will produce no wine,” he noted.
Trong said he has yet to recoup anything from the huge investment, and will only receive the first batch of production, nearly 8,000 liters of wine, by the end of the year.
It takes more than a year to turn 5kg of dragon fruit into one liter of wine, and each tank is capable of making 90 liters.
“There are customers who placed orders for 30,000 liters, or asked to become my dealership, but I still did not accept any orders,” he said.
Demand for the product in Australia and the Middle East is also considerable, he added.
“Even so, I cannot expand production as it requires far more investment,” he said.
Trong intended to sell his wine at VND80,000 ($3.77) per 500ml bottle, a price he admitted will bring substantial profit.
“I have to source the bottle cap at VND4,000 each, while the empty bottle costs more than VND10,000,” he explained.
The lack of capital also prevents Trong from operating his plant at full swing.
While the facility is designed to annually produce 40,000 liters of wine, using 200 tons of dragon fruit, the real current production is only less than 8,000 liters, he said.