Pon Yang Kham The Best Beef in Thailand
It has not yet been internationally recognized like Wagyu or Angus beef, but Pon Yang Kham beef has definitely become a household name among beef lovers in Thailand. To non-connoisseurs, the name may not be familiar. But if you ask any devoted carnivores, the local breed is the heavenly delight. The beef has become a most popular dish in many restaurants especially those serving Northeastern-style food like “somtam” and grilled beef. But Pon Yang Kham, indeed, has been supplied to such chain restaurants as BBQ Plaza, MK Suki, and Chokchai Steakhouse for over the past decade.
From the Kitchen to the Shelf
Food source is a best kept secret of a restaurant. Never reveal your food source is the practice. To keep it confidential, ingredients used in most restaurants are only mentioned as being certified by GMP, HACCP or ISO standards. After many animal disease spread, however, the food supplier brand names have become a guarantee for the safety.
That also paved the way for food suppliers to make their brands into the retail market. From suppliers providing food ingredients for restaurants, food suppliers now are more than just providing ingredients for HoReCa. Many food suppliers now create their own brands, providing food in the retail market for the consumers. CP recently launched its “CP Fresh Mart”, a convenience store providing food.
Entering the new age of providing best quality ingredients to the customers, Pon Yang Kham beef is the rising star of the food industry.
Becoming “Pon Yang Kham Beef”
Pon Yang Kham is derived from the name of a village in Tambon Non Hom, Muang district in Sakhon Nakhon province. The village is home to a Pon Yang Kham Livestock cooperatives under the Armed Forces Security Command that farms Thailand’s best beef. Pon Yang Kham may not be familiar but Thai-French Natural Beef definitely is, thanks to its French hybrid cows between two best breeds Charolais and Limosin sponsored by the French government.
Col.Matana Osothongs Marketing Director of Pon Yang Kham Livestock cooperatives first planned to raise the local best breed to compete with imported frozen beef, targeting on high-end customers. Unlike domesticated cows, Pon Yang Kham is fed with chemical-free, natural feeding. After seven-day chilled at 0 – 4-degree Celsius in Sakhon Nakhon, the carcass are measured to find the marbling scores. Once transported to Bangkok, the carcasses are kept in the chilled room for at least 14 days before being delivered to restaurants, supermarkets and the two cooperatives outlets.
Cows 24 to 30 months of age are Pon Yang Kham standard. Started with 38 cows worth about Bt400,000 in 1981, the number of cows has gone up to 5,694, worth more than Bt240M.
“We built our “Pon Yang Kham” brand since day one we registered our business. Our production capacity depends on our members. We don’t have a policy to buy cows and sold under Pon Yang Kham brand because of our unique chemical-free and natural feeding. Any cows bought would be fed for at least 10 months in our farm before selling under our brand,” says the director.
Uniqueness of Pon Yang Kham
The red marbling Pon Yang Kham beef can be traced back to its origin, with the food traceability system. The system reveals a cow’s history from day one it was born, days of being naturally fed, to the delivery day. The system does not only ensure the safety for customers, but also encourage the members to keep their fine standard.
“At times, we found fake Pon Yang Kham that couldn’t be traced back to its origin. Because our beef sells. But they don’t know that the real fans of Pon Yang Kham can tell the difference between the real and the fake.”
Pon Yang Kham products can easily be traced back through its traceability system in www.thaitrace.net or www.thaifrenchbeef.com . Or you can simply type TM and the traceability code (on the sticker found in the product package) as a text message and send it to 4545111, the origin will be sent back to you.
Pon Yang Kham Cuts
The average weight of a Pon Yang Kham to be slaughtered is 620 kilograms. Based on the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards, the local marbling scores are between 1 and 5. There are eight levels in the United States and 12 in Japan. Pon Yang Kham beef is generally scored at 3.5 to 4.5. The marbling scores usually get higher in winter, thanks to the lower temperature.
Popular cuts are “fillet”, “striploin”, “sirloin” and “T-bone” for steak while “paleron”, “aiguillette” and “chuck” are most wanted cuts to be transformed into thin slices in Japanese Chabu Chabu, Korean BBQ, and Northeastern-style BBQ restaurants.
Beef Market in Thailand
It was a tough start for the cooperatives to produce local beef in the market where only international big names are recognized. High-end customers including hotels and restaurants had the impression that local beef didn’t meet their high standard. Local beef market is divided into four categories: domesticated cow, processed beef, short-lived farmed cow, and quality farmed cow. The first three categories sweep more than 95 per cent of market share.
Despite the small portion of market share, the farmed cow has its high quoted price and increasing demand. The last category is therefore divided into local and imported beef. The small number of local producers are Beef Pro, Thai-French Butchery, and KU Beef. Thailand imported 1,894 tons of beef from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and the United States worth Bt315M last year. Pon Yang Kham expects to grab the market share.
Pon Yang Kham Beef in the Market
“Initially we targeted on supermarkets which were Foodland, Villa Market and now defunct Dairy Rent and Kangaroo. Our chilled beef was new for customers who were familiar with only imported frozen beef. Finally, Surapong Phusanakhom owner of Villa market became our first customer to approve of our quality. Upon learning about our cooperatives and testing our beef, Surapong was confident that the beef quality spoke for itself. Unexpectedly, he ordered five carcasses a week which was a big order back then. Now the order is 35 carcasses a week. Thanks to an ex-cooperatives director Francois Dervaux ’s personal connection, our product had a chance to enter Oriental Bangkok Hotel for testing. The beef was later approved as a second to none,” says Matana.
Started with 38 cows in 1981, the cooperatives now produces about 500 to 600 cows every month. The US beef ban in 2006 did not only help the cooperatives make a sales record at 6,212 cows sold worth Bt296M, but also pave the way for local beef to high-end market. Last year, 5,694 cows were sold, worth Bt240M.
“The sales expects to hit the record of 6,000 cows. As of now (September), more than 5,000 cows have been sold. And the three-month high season is around the corner. We receive more orders from hotels and restaurants everyday. These days, all transactions are executed in cash at our outlets only. However, we deliver to Villa Market, Tops, Gourmet Market and Betagro,” says Manas Hangchai, Sales manager of cooperatives, Wangthong branch in Rangsit. The cows are transported from the cooperatives in Sakhon Nakhon before going through the ageing process and made into beef cuts in Rangsit center. Then the cuts are delivered to retail customers and the two cooperatives outlets, in Rangsit and in Sukhumvit Soi 33 -35“
Although there’s no other can do better than they do, Pon Yang Kham became famous only in the food service industry because their name had always been kept secret for the sake of business. But when a restaurant on Nuanchan Road named the eatery after our beef “Pon Yang Kham”, they’ve become even more popular especially among connoisseurs. They’ve been maintaining our prices this year despite the increasing production cost. Compared to domesticated cow, Pon Yang Kham are still affordable. “Street somtam vendors buy scrap from us. We’re glad that people can enjoy the same quality beef, just like in a fine restaurant,” says the cooperatives director.
The future of Pon Yang Kham
Despite the US beef ban in 2005 and 2006, the imported frozen beef from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Brazil has continued to increase. However, affordable prices have boosted the sales of the local product. The only obstacle now is stock shortage especially marble beef like chuck and T-bone. The solution is to produce more beef to meet the increasing demand while the less popular cuts will be transformed into processed products.
However, the path for Pon Yang Kham isn’t paved with roses. Matana points out the other obstacle is Australia-Thai FTA, effective 1 January 2006, that allowed the reduction in imported tax for frozen beef from 51 per cent to 40, and continues to go down to zero in 12 years.
“We won’t penetrate into the market anymore. We believe our product speaks for itself. Frankly, we lack middle management who will continue our work. Most of our team members are the children of the farmers who are not marketers and not even fluent in English. We are trying to train them, however. For the FTA, we’ll wait and see the growing production cost and if our members will survive,” says the director.