The queen of king coffee

January 28, 2022 | 11:26
Despite disruption to the global supply chain and consumption habits upheaval, TNI King Coffee continues to expand both globally and locally, building a reputation on the global stage as well as cheering on the entrepreneurial spirit of women.
The queen of king coffee
Le Hoang Diep Thao - The queen of king coffee

Le Hoang Diep Thao feels an enormous sense of responsibility to both her industry and her country. “I have devoted my life to promoting our coffee and building its reputation on the global stage,” explained Thao, co-founder of Trung Nguyen Group and founder of TNI King Coffee. She was talking at Expo 2020 Dubai, the world’s biggest cultural gathering since the pandemic, which is taking place from October last year to March 2022.

With more than 25 years in the business, Thao said that the ongoing pandemic is just another challenge. “Spirit is important. It is necessary to correctly identify the situation, danger, and risk to determine the direction. We cannot change the wind, but must rotate the sails to adapt and find a way to break through,” she told VIR.

This year, TNI King Coffee is gradually moving from the crisis response phase to the recovery and development. “Currently, in major markets, we have offices and representatives to deal with partners. Everything is ready to embrace new challenges,” said Thao.

Her love of coffee is associated with the Vietnamese Central Highlands region, where the world’s finest robusta is grown. The aroma and rich taste of coffee beans have been deeply ingrained in her person, nurturing and forging in her a strong love. This helped form a very special leadership style for the coffee brands she worked so hard to build. “I was born and raised in a coffee-growing land with thousands of coffee trees. My love, dreams, and career also started there and will be there at the end,” shared Thao, who initially co-founded Trung Nguyen Group with her former husband Dang Le Nguyen Vu.

World-class exporter

Vietnam remains the second-largest coffee exporter in the world. From a market share of only 1 per cent, after decades it has grown to about 20 per cent, and coffee has become the main export agricultural product. However, Vietnam’s coffee exports are mainly raw beans, so it has low value and has not yet built a brand to enhance added value, and participate in the global value chain.

According to Thao, if the Vietnamese coffee industry chooses the raw material segment, businesses do not need to build a brand. However, if they want to expand and earn more than that, Vietnamese coffee businesses have no choice but to build a brand. To do this, they must invest in the distribution network, packaging, and persuading consumers. With that orientation, the road to building a brand will be much more difficult, but it will be long-term and sustainable, not only bringing more turnover from exports but also reaffirming the country’s position on the world stage.

“We have every right to hope that the whole world can learn that Vietnamese coffee is delicious,” Thao said proudly.

Thao’s efforts contributed to changing the game in the international coffee industry and bringing Industry 4.0 technology to local coffee farmers, ready to propel Vietnamese coffee production into the metaverse.

To confirm and enhance the status of Vietnam’s robusta, TNI King Coffee has cooperated with the Vietnam Record Institute and through the Vietnam Records Organization to carry out procedures to help complete a nomination dossier for the World Records Union (WorldKings) in October 2021.

WorldKings has since recognised Vietnam as the largest producer and exporter of robusta coffee to the global market in terms of output and productivity. The country possesses a coffee-making culture with heritage values in unique and typical barista art; and its people enjoy coffee in diverse, creative, and unique ways.

“I always remind myself what to do to let the world know about robusta and how good it is. We have to carry out many activities to change the minds of many people in this industry,” she told VIR.

Encouraging women’s roles

Thao’s success not only contributes to the coffee world, but also highlights the role of women.

Sharing her story in her first inspirational book, The Queen of King Coffee, Thao has published something that describes her extraordinary life and entrepreneurial path as the person who laid the foundation for dramatic changes. Over the course of several decades, the book follows the evolution of a number one brand from a single fiber coffee shop in the late 1990s to a coffee capital specialising in the export of high-quality robusta coffee from Vietnam to more than 190 countries around the world.

“I share my own story not so as to dwell on personal details – although I certainly discuss those matters – but I believe that my story can be better illustrated through the details of how my ex-husband and I made Trung Nguyen a success,” Thao said in the book. “From its humble beginnings as a small outlet in Buon Ma Thuot, our company became one of the fastest-growing commercial coffee exporters in the world.”

Through the book, readers can learn from more than 25 years of Thao’s management experience to understand why Vietnam produces more female CEOs than any other country in the region. “I also share more about my business management strategies and principles and explain all the important decisions that have brought me success and strengthened my resolve,” she explains.

Thao’s motivation and sincerity shines through in “Women Can Do”, an initiative in which women can join either as a distribution partner or as a small coffee shop franchisee, and it wishes for a playground where women can develop their own potential. The scheme is being deployed in many countries around the world – firstly the Philippines, Indonesia, and some Middle Eastern countries.

“We women must encourage each other and stand up for ourselves by our ability to create value. With “Women Can Do”, I want to build a community where women can stick together and rise up, not go it alone. Creating value for women means creating good values for society,” said Thao.

By Nguyen Thu

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