Offering daily vitamin doses fresh off the street

At 3am when most of the city is in deep slumber, 25-year-old Tri heads for the sidewalk on Hai Ba Trung in District 3 where he rests his sack full of guava. It’s a 10-minute walk from his rented room. The earlier he gets there the better because space located near the traffic lights, amongst the shady trees, is most sought after and hard to come by. Just before daybreak he starts to arrange his guavas in neat stacks to attract customers, he cuts one in half to display the pink flesh inside.

Tri, who’s originally from Ha Giang, has been selling various fruits (mangosteen, strawberries or papayas, depending on the season) for the last two years. “Seasonal fruits I sell are the best in the market,” he boasts. “I can assure you that I do not sell a single rotten or damaged product. Customers will not buy my products if I compromise on quality.”

After making a phone call to consult market prices, he writes “d20.000/kg” for the smaller sized guavas and “d30.000/kg” for the bigger ones. It’s 6am now and he sells a kilo within a matter of a few minutes to a motorbike driver on her way to work. “A juice shop has already ordered 2kgs and I am sure the rest will be sold within a few hours,” says Tri confidently.

Unlike other fruit sellers who bring and sell their produce directly from their fields, Tri risks incurring losses since his expenses include the cost of buying wholesale from local farmers and any loss through poor quality, inedible stock. He has to make sure that he sells everything he buys because fruits are highly perishable and cannot be kept fresh for long. “After I sell everything I return to the market to pay the farmers. Therefore, it is necessary that they do not sell me fruits that cannot be sold. I have strictly instructed them to supply me only fresh fruits.”

According to Tri, he has been earning a profit of VND50,000 per day for the last few months. “To be honest, I have been fortunate that I have never had to return anything that I’ve bought.” All seasonal fruits that end up on his sidewalk space come from a wholesale market in District 6 via Dalat or the Mekong Delta. “Selling fruits depends on how well we are able to convince the customers about the quality of our products. Definitely, we cannot bear heavy loss while selling the products but sometimes we have to lower profit margins as taking fruit back to our homes is of no use.”

During festive seasons, like the Mid-Autumn Festival, Tri earns extra income by also selling mooncakes. “Mooncakes are in high demand in September and lasts longer than fruits. Customers tend not bargain when buying mooncakes,” he says, adding that it could be because of their festive spirit.

Interrupting our conversation, a woman in her mid-30s approaches Tri and inquires about the price after squeezing and checking a guava’s firmness. After a few minutes, the woman agrees to buy 3kgs of the bigger size for VND25,000/kg.

“Although I lowered the profit margin, I do not mind because it’s hot today and the guavas will not stay fresh for too long in this heat.”

Image by NGOC TRAN