The second part of our meeting and interview with Jean-Marc Brutus, founder of Bellani Ice Cream, a French company based in Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
A priori, nothing would have determined Jean-Marc Brutus to become a producer of ice cream and syrup. Nothing made it take root in Vietnam either.
However, we must face the facts: he is now at the helm of Bellany, one of the main brands of ice cream and syrup in Vietnam, where it has already been around for 27 years.
Suffice it to say that among the French expatriate entrepreneurs, he seems like a wise old man… Find the first part of our interview on Jean-Marc Brutus’ first steps in Vietnam.
So Pilani… What’s behind this “excellent natural ice cream” (premium natural ice cream, to use the brand logo)?
Ambitious strategy across Vietnam
When Jean-Marc Brutus launched his business in 2008, he enlisted the services of a certain Guillaume, the now-deceased son of a famous Saigon restaurateur, who in addition to being a “foodie”, offers the merit of having studied commerce and law, which will prove to be a powerful ambassador An emerging brand with luxury hotels and restaurants.
The truth is that right from the start, Jean-Marc Brutus will want to raise the bar high.
“I quickly realized that I had to differentiate myself by becoming special. We had to make high-quality products, with real milk, real cream, natural fruits…”, he explains to us.
It must be said that at that time he had two serious rivals, Fanny and New Zealand, which were mainly established in the big cities, and thus left him relatively free domain in the provinces, where – by happy coincidence – it began to appear. Even a number of high-end tourist infrastructure …
From the coast to major Vietnamese cities
From now on, Jean-Marc Brutus would have places like Da Nang, Nha Trang, Mui Ne or Phu Quoc in his sights.
In Mui Ne, he created a first distribution point by purchasing a restaurant, which allowed him to install refrigerators and thus build up stock on site…
He says: “My proximity in time and place allowed me to enter the market.”
Realizing that the formula was a success, Jean-Marc Brutus opened an office in Nha Trang, then another in Da Nang, and then another in Phu Quoc: only the prominent coastal locations, where ice cream is necessarily a highly sought-after product. Holiday customers can be treated!
Little by little, after starting in the seaside resorts, Jean-Marc Brutus ended up establishing himself in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City: thanks to recognition, his products followed the path of many restaurateurs, who, having cut their teeth on the coast, went to try their luck in the capital or in the major cities of the south.
Wanted customers in Vietnam
However, the business took time to become truly profitable.
“We started ice cream in 2008, and we started making the first profits in 2017,” admits Jean-Marc Brutus, who does not regret the huge investments he had to make: without a doubt, the game was worth it. ..
It should also be noted that the market is especially demanding, the Coca-Cola brand has given its distributors “bad habits” by providing them not only products, but also storage devices and promotional materials …
It’s hard not to at least do that!
Jean-Marc Brutus is not satisfied with serving ice cream to this or that hotel. It also supplies freezers, menus, and even goes so far as to teach employees how to, say, make cones…market share must be gained!
It also places a heavy emphasis on what some call HORECA (an acronym for hotels, restaurants, and cafes). This is where most of his clients are.
It is preferable that the fruits are from local sources
But now let’s come to the “raw materials” because whoever says ice cream says fruit…
Vietnam is obviously full of fruit sellers and it is very easy to get supplies. Yes, but … this raises the question of compliance with sanitary standards and traceability: two points that Jean-Marc Brutus pays special attention to.
It therefore works with companies selling frozen fruit intended for export, which therefore generally adhere to strict traceability rules.
He must, of course, import some products that do not grow in Vietnam, such as black currants or blackberries. On the other hand, when it comes to mango, banana or passion fruit, to take only these three, it is clear that he can count on abundant local production.
Be that as it may, he chooses only natural products, that is, grown without any pesticides.
There is also the problem of dairy products, which are almost non-existent in Vietnam, which forces Jean-Marc Brutus to import, even if …
“As far as possible, all Vietnamese! He justifies himself.
This “all Vietnamese” is not an empty formula, for Jean-Marc Brutus, who knows how to adapt to the tastes of local customers and is interested in offering a full range of typical Asian flavours, with fruits like durian. For Europeans – because he doesn’t forget them – he has some secret tips like caramel and salted butter ice cream, which earn him the gratitude of all Brits who pass by, as you can imagine.
Look out for the third part of our interview soon…