Danish Christian and Signe aims to be part of the change in Vietnam

Christian & Signe with their two sons in Vietnam. Photo courtesy: Asia Life

In 1956, plant care products did not exist in Vietnam but nearly 44 years later in the first half of 2020, the country had imported more pesticides than gasoline. Danish Christian and Signe is on a mission to be part of the change in Vietnam and with the establishment of ByNature and MedPack Plus Vietnam, they work passionately on not only ensuring access to all-natural wholefoods and premium health and dietary supplements but also preserving the wellbeing of the local farmers. 

A lot of farming in Vietnam is done not only with the use of pesticides, but pesticides that have been banned for a good reason. Vietnam is also a country with lacking control measures and with no official ‘organic certificate’, the word organic is being used by different definitions and it does not ensure that the product is in fact organic or all-natural at all. In addition, farmers in Vietnam have poor knowledge regarding the health risks consuming and producing food containing hazardous chemicals have not only on the consumer’s health but also on the wellbeing of the farmers themselves working with pesticides day in and day out, year after year.   

There is a light

Although they are few and far between, small local organic farmers still exist in Vietnam and through passion, hard work, determination, and an effective testing system, Christian and Signe are bridging the way. As first-movers on the concept in Vietnam, with ByNature they are bringing all-natural whole foods and carefully selected pantry items to consumers in Vietnam, and in cooperation with their partner, MedPack Plus Vietnam supplies a range of premium health and dietary supplements, functional and medicinal foods, as well as personal care products.

Meet the Founders

I was fortunate enough to meet Christian and Signe, albeit remotely in these pandemic times, where they shared their story, dedication, and mission for change with me. I quickly sensed an immense passion which I found contaminating and very inspiring. ByNature and MedPack Plus is not just a business for Christian and Signe but in fact a desire for a better way of living. Christian and Signe are dedicated and have spent years establishing connections with local organic farmers and suppliers in Vietnam and built a trusted community where sustainable and clean products are available and sustainability and stability for the farmers and their livelihood is key. Not only are they perfervid about sourcing clean and natural products but also dynamic and enthusiastic about educating and helping the farmers continue on their greener journey of farming without the use of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. 

Christian and Signe. Photo courtesy: ByNature

The couple has been on quite the journey around the world since Christian first was stationed abroad well over two decades ago. What for him started as an international career in accounting, led to several jobs as Chief of Finance, working 20 years as a Senior Executive and finally becoming CEO of his own establishments in Vietnam. Signe, who is originally a trained lawyer, has adjusted along the way from the US to Asia with Switzerland and Zurich in between and today she is not only in charge of ByNature but also a mother of two teenage boys and a very ambitious entrepreneur.  

Danish roots

Christian and Signe are both from Denmark, though different parts of the country. Christian was born and raised in Birkerød and graduated from Copenhagen Business School with a degree in accounting and finance. Signe is a Viborg native and grew up in the west Jutland town before moving to the Copenhagen suburb of Hvidovre at the age of 14. During her teen years, Signe spent a year in France and a year in the US. In 1997 while working as an accountant for the Danish company Nilfisk, Christian was stationed in Westchester outside Philadelphia in the US. “Christian might have been one of the first people stationed abroad with Nilfisk and it was a super exciting experience and not at all the norm back then,” Signe tells me. At the time she was studying law at the University of Copenhagen, something she continued long-distance, and the couple packed up their belongings in Denmark and left on what they at first assumed was going to be a two-year contract abroad. But in reality, “Signe and I left Denmark in 1997 and haven’t looked back since” Christian says.  

Growing up abroad

“We were not married and never thought about that being an issue in regards to being able to live together in the US. That just goes to show how young we were when we arrived and we just went with the flow,” Signe says. The latter turned out to be problematic as Signe arrived on a tourist visa and after three months in the States, the couple realized that if Signe wanted to stay they had to get married. Which they did. Without it being a lavish affair, a Justice of Peace performed the ceremony, and Christian and Signe saved the celebrations for a traditional wedding in Denmark to a later date. “Did you ever get your Danish wedding?” I ask to which Signe replies, “Four years later we were in Switzerland and thought that now is the time, if ever at all, so yes we had a ceremony in Denmark and spent a fantastic Danish summer night surrounded by family and friends from all over the world.”

The first year in the States while finishing her BA in Law, Signe worked as a volunteer with the Red Cross where she wore many hats, so to speak. Besides giving lectures and working with HIV/AIDS, her job also entailed being a first responder to people in sudden need at all hours of the day. “Typically I would jump in my tiny Geo Metro in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning and drive out to help people,” Signe recalls and she also worked at the main office twice a week where she assisted with communication amongst the service personnel stationed around the country. In the second year in the States, Signe advanced her BA with a Master of Law while Christian applied for an MBA at IMD in Lausanne where he got accepted. So from Westchester, US, Christian, and Signe departed for Switzerland where Signe the first three months finished her studies before returning to Denmark to finish her exams while working an internship at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After receiving her diploma Signe was lucky to get an internship with the UN in Geneva just a short train ride from Lausanne.

Working life

With Christians MBA in hand a year later, Christian and Signe moved to Zurich where Christian worked for Holderbank, later Holcim and Signe worked for Swiss Air and later at the insurance company XL Winterthur. While living in Zurich, the couple’s first son was born at a top-notch hospital resembling a five-star hotel. The exact opposite of the little local hospital in Shanghai where Christian and Signe welcomed their second son into the world. “Our youngest son was born at a local Shanghai hospital before International hospitals existed there and that was a unique experience in a league of its own involving everything that defines cultural differences”.

Entering Asia

In 2003, the family moved to Shanghai via Christian’s job back at Nilfisk and although they lived in a nice little expat bobble as they called it, Christian and Signe experienced the hardship of limited access to basic necessities such as diapers and baby food. In China, Signe was actively involved in the international non-profit, non-political, and non-religious charity organization Morning Tears, and in the last years, she worked hard on establishing a Danish on-site Church. The project ended with a Danish priest and not a Danish Church Abroad as is seen in other parts of the world. “When we arrived, Chinese farmers did not use pesticides on a large scale in their agriculture. That came a little later. The air pollution was also not as bad as it is today but when we moved to Singapore a good 10 years later, we were happy to have access to clean air and quality food. Singapore became a refreshing change and it felt good to arrive in a country with a more “normal” approach to rules and regulations”, the couple recalls. 

Part of the change 

Five years ago the family uprooted again and moved to Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City to be more exact. Christian has always had the dream of establishing his own company and three years ago he took the plunge and became an entrepreneur and business owner. “It’s just amazing and I regret that I didn’t do it sooner as it has always been a dream of mine” Christian says.

“When we came to China, fresh vegetables without pesticides were widely available, but when the farmers realized how much more they could harvest with pesticides, it became a hit and sadly not done to quite the same standards we know from Europe.” After experiencing the increasing amounts of pesticides used in Chinese agriculture happening in Vietnam as well, Christian sought out developing a network of organic farmers and ByNature was built on the idea of offering a clean and healthy alternative for consumers and local farmers alike. 

ByNature works closely with local Vietnamese Farmers. Photo courtesy: ByNature

ByNature Vietnam

“Here in Vietnam we see an overuse of pesticides and that is what we want to change. We are very open about the fact that we are not farmers and we do not have the knowledge it requires to produce. We have however succeeded in finding the right people who can.” Christian spent the first two years finding natural agriculture to work with and more importantly trust. “Our concept is innovative and it has been and still is very difficult to find clean products here in Vietnam. There are small natural farmers but locating them is not an easy task, let alone convincing them to continue farming without the use of pesticides.”

Invested in the dream

Besides sourcing local organic and all-natural products, Signe and Christian have invested in a couple of local farmers and helped them build a 100% natural and free-roaming egg farm. The farm is located close to the Cambodian border and here the eggs (and hens) are completely free of antibiotics, growth hormone, and other nasty additives. The same goes for the chicken feed which is all-natural and clean. What started with ‘The Box’ concept full of fresh fruit and vegetables have now expanded into more complete value boxes as though the connection to more suppliers, they now have a wide variety of products available all through the different seasons. People can buy discounted boxes and programs with delivery three times a week or simply order exactly what they need. ByNature’s ‘From Farm to Fork’ concept is direct deliveries from their partner farms with same-day delivery to customers. Besides the boxes, ByNature also supplies a large selection of other all-natural products including their own raw honey directly from natural beehives and raw bites imported from Denmark.  

Signe at their 100% natural and free-roaming egg farm. Photo courtesy: ByNature

Education is key

Christian and Signe work closely with a small co-up of local experts in organic farming who work with local farmers to change their farming process to an organic one. It is a difficult process, but the couple has seen that it works. Lastly, ByNature has joined a collaboration with a group of nut farmers on a “fair trade” concept. Consisting of ethnic minorities who have been taught how to grow a variety of different nuts without the use of pesticides, the farmers are guaranteed a specific income and the purchase of all their harvest. “It is one of the projects we are most happy about being involved in – it is a Win-Win in reality – for the farmers, nature, for us, and our customers,” Signe proudly shares.  

Testing, testing, and more testing

 

Another important part of ByNature is their immense quality assurance and Christian and Signe regularly test the products themselves. This is how they genuinely keep their promise and guarantee of all-natural foods. Signe and Christian conduct tests in a variety of labs as not all tests can be done in one lab. The couple always uses independent labs and changes between different providers and ByNature’s partners do not always know when they test and certainly not where they test.

It’s all a family affair

In the beginning, Christian ran ByNature with Signe helping on the side while also working another job. Later when Christian was offered another job opportunity, their roles reversed and today Signe is officially in charge of the daily management of ByNature but Christian remains very much involved. ByNature is still a small establishment with just a few employees who all do a bit of everything and with a customer range of primary expats for the time being. Reaching the local Vietnamese population is a goal ByNature is passionate about but it does require understanding their buying habits as Vietnamese traditionally buy their daily necessities at the local market instead of ordering ahead. The younger Vietnamese generation, thus with a smaller buying power, are becoming more aware and appreciative regarding organic and all-natural products and Christian and Signe see a positive development in regards to wanting sustainability and clean products. ByNature is extremely aware of reusing as much as possible and eliminating all use of plastic in their products. Besides supplying a large range of all-natural and clean products, Signe also works hard on inspiring people to see the benefits of a greener approach to life through By Nature’s blog. It’s a fantastic read full of easy-to-do recipes, tales of their partners and their stories, and very interesting facts about ByNature’s different products. 

Photo courtesy: ByNature

MedPack Plus 

Eating clean and fresh food is not always enough however and some people need to add a little extra into their diet to ensure they are getting a measurable amount of essential nutrients and make up for the poor nutrient content of the many foods we eat. With that in mind, MedPack Plus came to life over lunch between Christian and their business partner about three years ago.

With the idea written down on a napkin, Christian, Signe, and their partner secured the rights to sell Swiss Energy in Vietnam and today it’s become one of the country’s leading brands of vitamins and minerals. Swiss Energy is a range of science-based nutritional supplement products, primarily made from branded and thoroughly researched ingredients, manufactured according to the international quality standards, and thoroughly tested at every stage of the production cycle – from raw materials to finished product. MedPack Plus acts as a trusted partner for dietary supplements, functional foods, and personal care products that are authentic, safe, and with high efficacy. MedPack Plus only works with valuable brands that represent products of high quality, efficacy, and safety. MedPack Plus vitamins and minerals are today available in over 2000 stores in Vietnam and Christian and Signe only works with valuable brands that represent products of high quality, efficacy, and safety. With Signe busy managing ByNature, Christian oversees MedPack at an overall managing level and their business partner is in charge of the daily running together with a small local team. Signe is however a very enthusiastic test person for all new potential products and “Our products actually work and you always get what you pay for”. Currently MedPack Plus is expanding by investing in more products and brands for the Vietnamese market. 

Photo: MedPack Plus via Facebook

According to The World’s Health Organization, access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health which is what most people strive for. If you live in Vietnam, Signe and Christian invite you to join ByNature’s better way to live through their website www.bynature.vn and make sure to browse MedPack Vietnam’s wide range of products such as vitamins, minerals, sports nutrition, kids nutrition, weight management, beauty, and gastrointestinal health at www.medpackplus.vn  

Fresh From Farm with ByNature’s ‘The Box’ concept. Photo courtesy: ByNature
ByNature imports Raw Bite’s from Denmark. Photo courtesy: ByNature
Products from MedPack Plus. Photo courtesy: MedPack Plus

About Mette Larsen

ScandAsia Journalist • Scandinavian Publishing Co., Ltd. • Thailand

View all posts by Mette Larsen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *