Vietnam’s food and beverage industry has grown into a community of extraordinarily talented, passionate, and resilient people. The community gets bigger by the day, with new chefs and mixologists emerging, new dining venues opening doors, and new industry players in every form coming in. But no matter how big it gets and further it expands, the whole local F&B community knows one man who’s made an incredible impact on the country’s evolving drinking culture: Chris Thompson.
A Liverpool-born FMCG commercial sales expert, Chris arrived in Vietnam in 2013 to build a domestic market footprint for Rothschild Estates. Bringing with him 13 years of experience working in the F&B sector at that time (previous with Danone, Nestle, and Pernod Ricard UK), Chris was already an authority in the field. He’s held countless beverage events and food-and-wine pairing dinners to connect restaurants, bars and suppliers and create a whole new experience for Vietnamese consumers.
It was no surprise when Chris won Drinks Business Asia Best Social Media in 2018 and Influencer of the Year in 2020. Thanks to his indisputable flair in sales and marketing and engaging nature, Chris has helped hospitality brands in Vietnam and Indochina grow their businesses and cement their names in the domestic and regional market. He also enjoyed his time as Editor-At-Large and Business Development Director at Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, where he was offered a platform to further elevate the F&B industry.
Today, Vietcetera welcomes Chris as its new Senior Editor for F&B. Chris’ expertise in the dining and drinking sector and his clear visions for a more collaborative, unified industry will be an asset to Vietcetera, especially with exciting new projects coming up after the success of Flavors Vietnam 2022.
To know more about his new role at Vietcetera, and what new flavors he’s bringing to the table, here’s our quick conversation with Chris Thompson.
How long have you been involved in the F&B industry? Why this field?
In 2006, I was working for Nestle in London within their Modern Trade sales team with customers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Waitrose. I saw a job advertisement for a similar position working in a totally different category, wine and spirits, for a world-leading company called Pernod Ricard which owned brands such as Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet, Martell, Jameson, and Absolut vodka. My commercial background and understanding of the sales channel prepared me well, but I needed to work hard to build my knowledge of this new category and industry and I’ve been learning every day since.
The joy of working in the F&B industry lies around the “connections” you get to have. The relationships that we build with other industry players are essential and long-lasting, and the connection one feels to the terroir of a particular wine region or sense of place of an auspicious distillery is incredibly meaningful. I also love to see the physical manifestation of the passion of an entrepreneur when visiting so many remarkable bars and restaurants. It’s especially rewarding to have been able to visit a construction site of a new restaurant and then observe the full life cycle of that establishment as it opens, thrives, evolves and goes on to receive notable recognition. Quince, on 37 Ky Con and Layla on 63 Dong Du are two great examples of how I have experienced this.
How do you define Vietnam’s F&B sector and the community that’s striving to bring it to the global market?
Restless, ambitious, and aspiring.
There was a step change in Saigon around 2016 when we saw a spurt of imaginative new openings of great independent bars and restaurants as destinations like Stoker and Racha Room were joined by the likes of Anan Saigon, Layla, Quince, Summer Experiment, Tomatito and Octo. International mixologists such as Richie Fawcett, Kata Simon, Jay Moir, and Greg Jacob have raised the bar, made cocktails accessible, and inspired the young generation of mixologists such as Thep Dinh and Jerry Luu to open their own bars like Stir and Climb. This trend caught on a bit later in Hanoi but the opening of TUNG Dining in 2019 has inspired more new openings such as Chapter Dining and Gia while the British mixologists Richard McDonough and Sean Halse are leading the way in mixology inspiring local bartenders such as Ngoc Vu of Doozy who is the current Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year for Vietnam.
The industry showed great togetherness and resilience during the challenging COVID times and now feels well-placed to drive forward as the country opens its borders to international guests.
I’m also noting a greater sense of achievement and curiosity in our industry as shown by the inclusion of a clutch of Vietnam-based bars and restaurants in the recent Asia 50 Best rankings and the presence of our people attending these regional events. I’d like to see our industry inviting the best chefs and mixologists from around the world to strut their stuff at pop-up events with our best bars and restaurants to surprise and delight Vietnamese consumers as well as inspire our local talent. This is all encapsulated by a feeling that building a career or business in the hospitality sector is now more of an attractive option for talented young Vietnamese.
What’s your favorite Vietnamese dish?
Mi Quang noodles — this dish is the ultimate Vietnamese comfort food to be washed down with an ice-cold 333.
You’re starting a new role as Senior Editor for F&B at Vietcetera. Can you tell us more about this
The recent impact of Vietcetera’s Flavors Vietnam program, including the Food & Beverage Conference, #BanhMiAwards and other competitions, highlights the desire of Vietcetera to shine a light on the industry and raise its profile not just within Vietnam but also to the wider world.
Dao Thu Phuong, our new Chief Operating Officer recently pledged that Vietcetera will provide “better, more insightful content through articles, videos, and podcasts” that fully embody the progress of Vietnam. This really chimed with me and I’ll help to raise the profile of this fantastic country through the lens of two of its greatest strengths; cuisine and the warmth of its hospitality. Thuy Minh, our Chief Content Officer, often talks about the “multicast” approach of Vietcetera and it’s the breadth and depth of this platform that is so appealing to me in terms of promoting local talent.
I hope that Vietcetera readers will see me as an active and positive presence while also being a reference point for all of the exciting new openings and people developments in the hospitality industry in Vietnam.
Any big plans for Vietcetera’s F&B content?
The approach will be one of evolution rather than revolution and it’s mainly about injecting even more energy and focus into the hospitality category building on the success of proven Vietcetera programs such as Spaces, Flavors, Coi Mo, and also Khong Cay Khong Ve. We’ll break the news of exciting new bar and restaurant openings and I’m actually flying to Hanoi to kick this off this week so please stay tuned. We’ll also be looking to ramp up our experiential program with smaller, classy, bespoke events with our partners. I’ll also be reaching out to those who haven’t yet worked with Vietcetera to search for ways where we can introduce brands to outlets for mutually beneficial features and activations.
Why do you think it’s important for media organizations like Vietcetera to highlight the F&B industry?
Anthony Bourdain once said, “Food is everything we are. It's an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma”. So in this way, we can understand the importance of the F&B industry to our readers and also in terms of how we drive our mission to “connect Vietnam to the wider world.” I also feel that in today’s age of media proliferation with mass and myriad social media engagement about food, it’s important that certain media organizations, like Vietcetera, offer a trusted reference point for readers to navigate the industry.