‘Made in Macau’ masks: Jumping on the bandwagon

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the inception of several factories to produce the first batches of Made in Macau disposable medical masks, which do not only cater for the local market but also plan to venture overseas.

One of the biggest changes to the daily life of the public after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), besides the lockdown measures and travel restrictions, is wearing a facemask. Although there has not been any new case reported in Macau since 26 June, and only one case since 8 April, it’s still mandatory for the public to wear masks on public transportation, public facilities and many private venues. 

Wearing masks has become a symbol of the fight against this global pandemic. While there might still be a shortage of masks in other places, the Macau government has ensured supply for residents and non-resident workers since the beginning, by sourcing supplies from elsewhere. And some local companies have also jumped on the bandwagon to manufacture Made in Macau disposable facemasks, catering to the local market and beyond.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there had not been any local factories producing disposable medical facemasks. However, due to the scarcity of masks in the beginning of this health crisis earlier this year, Macao Oriental Ever Rich Limited, a local firm founded in 2018 to manufacture dietary supplements, has invested MOP2 million (US$250,000), initially to turn part of its factory in the Macau side of the Zhuhai-Macau Cross Border Industrial Zone in Ilha Verde, to produce masks.

“We have turned one-fourth of our factory into the facilities for face mask production,” Vicki Lao, general manager of Macao Oriental Ever Rich, explains. “As we have been manufacturing dietary supplements, our factory is a good fit for producing healthcare and medical supplies. What we need to do to start producing masks is just to purchase the relevant equipment and materials.”

Granted a face mask manufacturing license by the Macau Economic Bureau at the end of March, the firm has started the relevant production and certification process, and its first batch of disposable medical masks were ready in May. “We can now produce about 20,000 masks a day, and we have also started to produce masks for children, which are now undergoing inspection and testing process, and could be ready for sale [in September],” says Ms Lao. “Together with the masks for children, our production line will be able to manufacture 40,000 masks a day.”

Fashion and comfort

With materials and equipment sourced from Mainland China, Macao Oriental Ever Rich’s face masks, branded as AKSO Masks, have been certified by CCIC Macau Company Limited — a subsidiary of state-owned China Certification and Inspection (Group) Co Ltd — as standard-compliant face masks with the BFE (Bacterial Filtration Efficiency) level of over 95 per cent. While AKSO Masks are now available for sale at a number of local pharmacies with a suggested retail price at MOP2.5-3.2 each, Macao Oriental Ever Rich has also supplied masks to a number of local hotels and government departments for use by their staff, the general manager details. For instance, the factory sold its first batch of over 20,000 masks to its first client, Hotel Fortuna, in May.

“We are satisfied with the sales of our face masks in these past few months, as we also have to compete with the government’s face mask purchase scheme that caters local consumers at a low price of MOP0.8 a mask,” she notes. 

In light of the mask shortage here in the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the Macau government has launched the face mask purchase scheme since the end of January, sourcing masks from over 15 countries and regions in the world and selling them to Macau residents and non-resident workers at MOP8 for 10 masks. The scheme, which does not include Made in Macau masks, has been kept on running as of now, and over 116 million masks have been sold under the programme as of early August.

The general manager adds: “What we could do is to have better control over the product cost and further enhance the quality of our masks to provide more choices for the Macau public.” Comfortability and fashionable style are what makes AKSO masks stand out in the market. The masks are made with fabrics that are breathable and could minimise the risks of causing skin irritations. The firm has also sourced fabrics in various colours and fabrics, she says, adding that the masks are now available in at least 10 colours and patterns, including orange, yellow, purple, pink, and blue.

Social responsibility

In the wake of the pandemic, at least four firms, including Macao Oriental Ever Rich, have started manufacturing disposable masks locally or plan to do so. Macaufacture Medical Supplies Limited is another newcomer to the market, and the firm was only established in March by three Macau residents. “[Our shareholders] noticed the lack of local face mask production at the time, compared with some 20 or 30 entities pledging to manufacture masks locally in Hong Kong in the beginning of the pandemic,” explains Angel Lai, chief marketing officer of the firm. 

“So we have decided to open a mask factory not because of money — we do not expect this type of business will have any lucrative returns,” she continues. “We’ve just tried to be socially responsible and helped stabilise the mask supply here in the fight against COVID-19.”

While the shareholders do not have a background of manufacturing medical supplies, some of them have experiences in running a medical clinic. Following the establishment of the company in March, they have invested about MOP10 million and the next three months in renting a place of over 4,000 square feet in an industrial building in Areia Preta, and transforming it into the Macau 853 Mask Factory. The standard-compliant plant has started production since the government granted it a manufacturing license at the end of June.

According to the chief marketing officer, the factory has the capability to manufacture 150,000 masks a day — branded as 853 Face Masks — but the daily production quantity now only stands at 100,000 masks. Due to the soaring demand for fabrics and materials of face masks around the world, Macaufacture has bought 10 tonnes each of different fabric for masks, including the Meltblown fabric from Germany, says Ms Lai, adding that its stock supply for the fabrics could last for a year. 

More certifications

With a suggested retail price of MOP2.5 a mask, the 853 Face Masks are now available in over 40 retail points across the city while the firm also provides masks for local firms, associations and some government departments. Concerning the sales, the company has so far been satisfied. “There are some consumers that are supportive of Made in Macau masks, while we understand some consumers have high requirements and standards. Some also respond our masks are expensive compared with the masks under the government’s purchase scheme,” Ms Lai says. 

“We want to stress that we have started up this business not because of any government assistance — we have not had any subsidies from the government on producing masks — but we simply want to help the community by giving them more choices [in masks],” she continues. “We will continue to listen to the public and address their needs.”

As one of the demands from the local market is a wider array of colours for the 853 Face Masks, Macaufacture plans to provide more colours as well as the current blue colour, in the near future. Another plan is to attain more and higher international certifications. In addition to the Chinese certification, the 853 Face Masks were also certified in August by testing and certification institution SGS, to the Level 1 standards of ASTM and EN14683 respectively. They are the first Macau firm to attain certified standards for medical masks in the United States and the European Union respectively. 

“Our next step is further ameliorate our production procedures and [the quality of] materials to have our masks certified as [ASTM and EN14683] Level 2 masks, and then the Level 3 certifications,” Ms Lai hopes. The standards for ASTM and EN14683 masks are divided into three tiers with Level 1 offering the lowest level of protection and the highest for Level 3.

Go abroad

With a population size of just over 600,000 in the territory, Matthew Liu, a professor of marketing from the Faculty of Business Administration at the University of Macau, proposes the local mask factories have to continue consolidating the local market and be prepared to venture abroad. “As the Macau government has encouraged local gaming operators and hotels to adopt a local procurement policy to support Macau small and medium-sized enterprises, the mask factories should be in talks with these entities,” the scholar says.

While the manufacturers could explore the possibilities of launching their products in the other cities of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, Professor Liu suggests they should attain more international certifications to export Made in Macau masks to the European and American markets. “One of their [overseas] marketing strategies could be placing emphasis on the outstanding measures Macau has adopted to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with no deaths reported so far, thus enhancing the image of Made in Macau masks,” he says, adding the factories should also expand the variety of their products by adding hand sanitizers, alcohol pads, gloves and others to the production line. 

Indeed, the local factories have mulled over going abroad, namely the European market. “Though we now only serve the Macau market, we hope to take gradual steps to bring Macau products to other regions,” says Ms Lao from Macao Oriental Ever Rich. The first stop in its international expansion plan is Portugal, followed by other western countries and Japan, as it is now preparing to attain the relevant certifications and others for exporting masks to the European nation.

“We think the Made in Macau masks could be competitive in the relevant markets in terms of pricing, and there is still a shortage of masks in the western countries,” the general manager remarks. “But Mainland China is definitely not on our radar at the moment, given the lower manufacturing cost and price for masks there.”

More in pipeline

Portugal is also the first export destination for Macaufacture. “As long as the mask supply in Macau is stable, we will definitely work on exporting our masks — and every local face mask plant will also be interested in exports — due to the limited size of the local market,” Ms. Lai explains. 

Made in Macau masks have advantages in the competition with those made in Mainland China and in other markets, despite higher costs. “The standards and requirements for the production process is slightly higher in Macau [than in the mainland], and, like us, we have attained many international certifications that the mainland manufacturers might not do so,” the chief marketing officer says.

In regards to the local market, the firm hopes to further develop the long-term partnership with large corporations here while it plans to expand its product portfolio. “Face mask is only our first product, and we will definitely consider manufacturing locally other medical and cosmetic supplies like medical gloves and sanitary napkins,” says Ms Lai. “We hope to add at least one type of new product next year.”

“It seems that the recognition of Macau brands and Made in Macau products among the public is not high, alongside with the decline of the manufacturing industry here in the past few decades,” she admits. “We hope we can prove the quality of Made in Macau products first through our masks.”