Bhutanese startups offer lower prices and improved quality to compete with foreign imports

Pema Choki/ Thimphu

The Bhutanese economy is heavily dependent on imports but there is a group of entrepreneurs trying to reduce imports by selling local products at cheaper prices.

“We cannot urge the government to ban imports because we cannot produce the needed products in large quantities. Take for example, frozen french fries, I cannot urge the government to ban the import because I need to be able to supply related frozen foods in a large quantity,” shared Jangchub, the man behind the frozen fries brand, Kuenga Potato Fingerling.

Competing with the import brands in the market can be quite strenuous with consumers choosing imported products over local products.

“Our customers have this notion that our local product cannot be as good as imported ones. They think local products are more expensive and of lower quality, but that is not true. I sell my products at a cheaper price than the imported ones, and honestly tastes richer than the imported ones,” he added.

Another startup, a tech-based company that makes products using a 3D printer, Leaf Creative Solutions, shared about the market challenge.

“We offer our products at a cheaper rate than the market value or cheaper than the imported products. This is basically to compete with imported products,” said Leaf Creative Solutions.

Leaf Creative, although a tech-based has a simple yet encouraging motive for the company. “Our goal is to substitute imported products with our products so that we can decrease it, and to produce learning materials in Dzongkha because that is something we cannot import and can be helpful in learning. We also target waste management through recycling because our products can be made through recycling PET bottles.”

Leaf Creative Solutions plans to make products that have the essence of Bhutanese culture and tradition. The company is small with just a few machines, however, there are plans to procure more machines, and the aim is to export their products in the future. “Our plan is to promote our culture through our products. We plan to make products that are home to the Bhutanese traditions like traditional masks used in Tsechus and all, to sell and target it in the international market in the future.”

Zhabthra will be an OTT platform, similar to Spotify and iTunes, but a cheaper and a Bhutanese version of it. Zhabthra will incorporate Bhutanese songs offered on a subscription basis that is cheaper than other OTT platforms. Zhabthra will accept a subscription of Nu 100 per month and Nu 299 for 3 months, which is much cheaper than other OTT platforms in the country.

With competition from other OTT platforms, the founder, Kencho shared, “Zhabthra is totally different from other OTT platforms. It is basically for music and a platform for artists to grow.” With over 135 registered artists, 70 percent of the profit will be given to the registered artists.

Although startup ventures are picking up in the country, besides the competition in the market, the startups face other challenges. “Our current challenge, right now, is budget and procurement of machineries. Machines can be quite expensive, and at the moment, we still cannot afford the high-end machines,” added Jangchub.

“The biggest challenge I face is the finances and lack of technical expertise initially, in terms of coding for App development,” shared Kencho.

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