Just as I unwrap another Marou chocolate bar from the swag bag, a new message addressed to a panelist of the Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference pops up on the screen: a request to tour Pizza 4P’s dairy farm in Dalat to learn more about their sustainability practices.
The 4P’s crew are not the only ones fielding questions in the wake of our inaugural Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference. Some of the biggest names of Vietnam’s food and beverage scene were brought together for a tightly-packed program of panel discussions, fireside chats, and immersive, brand experience and the audience left with plenty of take-aways and follow-up questions.
While the evening program saw foodies, restaurateurs and chefs gather at the Mai House ballroom to toast the winners of Vietnam Restaurant and Bar Awards 2020, the morning conference was the golden opportunity to hear from the elder statesmen of Vietnam's F&B industry. Below are some of the highlights from the sold-out morning event.
F&B Trends to Watch
- Olivier Depas – Foodservice Business Unit Director of Annam Professional
- Asif Mehrudeen – Founder AHM F&B
- Lam Duc Anh – Brand Ambassador of Diageo Vietnam
- Maximo Ares – F&B Director, Mai House
For AHM, delivery remains an essential part of their business strategy. To buoy sales, they leverage mobile apps like Grab, Gojek and BAEMIN given their marketing power and logistics networks. Asif’s team hopes to hit 80% of pre-covid business by December 2021.
The out-of-home dining trend has been a boon for retailers, with sales at Annam stores booming during the lockdowns. In the wake of the pandemic, the group hopes to continue capturing demand from grocery shopping. For dining out, Olivier says the trend is positive but the bounce-back will be gradual.
A category that’s been performing exceptionally well, alcohol sales, has remained on an upward trajectory after the first and second COVID waves, says Diageo’s Duc Anh. With very healthy distribution sales in 2020, the group will be aggressive going into 2021.
On the hospitality side, Maximo admits that hotel room bookings are nowhere near pre-covid numbers, but with events booming there continues to be a positive momentum.
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Technology Innovation In F&B
- Manisha Shah – CFO of Momo
- Taku Tanaka – CEO of KAMEREO
- Luan Khanh – Director of Speed POS
Speaking of B2B innovation, Manisha mentioned Momo’s focus on boosting its efforts by deploying software tools that will enable businesses to better leverage data to understand their consumers and construct trends that they otherwise wouldn’t see.
For Speed POS’s Luan, being able to better understand his daughter’s generation who “are so digital native, they sometimes forget that books can’t rotate like phones”, has helped them equip their clients to be digital-first.
KAMEREO founder Taku spoke of the importance of listening to your clients. He gave an example of his team designing a web application for desktop only to discover their users were actually using mobile to access the platform. The team quickly launched a mobile app and, as a result, engagement and user bases increased and have remained on an upward trajectory.
The panelists agreed that businesses should be more digitally native, but opt for leveraging third party platforms to easily plug-and-play to deploy. They should only build their own systems when and if they scale massively.
Investment Opportunities In 2020 And Beyond
- Paul Nguyen Hung – Founder & CEO of Goody Vietnam
- Mary Tarnowka – Director of AmCham
- Kristian Harmston – CEO of Alchemy Asia & Tribe Hospitality
So, where do opportunities lie? In ready-to-serve cocktails, thinks Kristian. As consumers got a taste of bar-quality martinis delivered to their doorstep during the lockdown, they have been asking for more of the same. Mary and Paul see opportunities in sustainable packaging, as “greening” of the industry is a trend that is here to stay. And the nation’s newfound love for healthy products ushering in newcomers such as kombucha is unlikely to fade any time soon.
An even bigger opportunity lies in serving the domestic market. Many businesses that used to rely on expats and tourists have successfully pivoted to serving Vietnamese consumers. Kristian gives an example of the Racha Room that is enjoying a healthy weekend traffic that is 80-90% Vietnamese.
Kristian also sees potential in taking locally-grown commoditized ingredients, specifically Vietnamese botanicals used by major international gin distilleries, and turning them into locally-made premium products.
Building Loved Brands In Vietnam
- Chris Huynh – CEO of Baozi
- Daniel Cohen – Lighthouse Indochina Group
- Khoa Nguyen – CEO of Banh Mi 362
Vietnam is a dark market for spirits, observes Daniel. Even for big brands enjoying household name status in more mature markets, building brand recognition in Vietnam requires deep pockets. If you are not blessed with an unlimited marketing budget, there are community events, bartender competitions, gin fests and other touch points where building consumer experiences and creating loyalty can be done at a lower cost.
Case in point is Baozi, where customer loyalty is built through fun experiences and social media engagement. Khoa of Banh Mi 362 recommends doing your homework first. Find out what matters most to your customers and then make sure you deliver it better than anyone else.
And how do you know you are loved? Look at your cash flow, says Khoa. Numbers don’t lie.
Branding For Success: Tips From Those Who Did It
- Joshua Breidenbach – Founder of This Is Rice
- Peter Cuong Franklin – Founder and Chef at Anan and Nhaunhau
- Chris Elkin – Founder of Doodle Brands
Key takeaway: branding is not just a great logo. It’s copy and writing according to Josh, design thinking according to Chris, and all about holistic details for Peter.
Peter spoke of Anan’s decision to invest in branded Sriracha bottles: it costs a whopping $8 for a real bottle, yet Anan continues to invest in this detail as part of its branding value.
This is Rice, who designed iconic Vietnamese brands like Marou and Pizza 4P’s, remain firm in their belief that it’s the founders who drive timeless brands – with their passion, hard work and sacrifices. Being able to attract and work with such tireless founders is why This is Rice has been successful too.
Chris of Doodle Brands advocates in favor of taking a bottom-up approach, instead of top-down thinking, as well as involving all teams and not just leadership to get around ideas.
Building Spaces For Urban Communities
- Fong-Chan Zeuthen – Founder of KAZE Interior Design Studio
- Trang Duong – Deputy Director of SPN Corp
- Henry Bott – Chief Representative of John Swire & Sons Vietnam
Although developers in Vietnam remain focused on amenities and space that maximize return, there are locally-based designers and developers who are pushing the envelope for innovative thinking through activating urban spaces that ensure longevity and long-term sustainability.
Fong-Chan of KAZE mentioned that in the last 20 years working in interior design in Vietnam, she has seen a strong upward curve in the number of sophisticated developers and venue operators with true foresight rather than short-term design thinking.
Trang Duong from SPN. Corp, the developer of the MGallery Hotel des Arts Saigon and the premium office building Centec Tower, mentioned how while food and beverage rent yields are lower, they are essential as amenities for the communities they serve by retaining tenants and guests and by offering comfort. SPN Corp has taken these lessons on board when developing its newest property, JW Marriott resort in Cam Ranh, which is scheduled to open late next year.
Henry Bott of Swire, which develops high-end and sophisticated properties like Taikoo Li and Taikoo Place in Hong Kong, mentioned that F&B venues help to activate public spaces and remain an essential value-add. He advocates in favor of being more strategic when selecting tenants and against selling storefronts to private owners who may subsequently lease space to negative-value tenants, as such short-term thinking brings down the value of the entire development.
Henry is optimistic that developers in Vietnam foresee these challenges and are thinking ahead to limit these decisions and optimize for long-term value.
Brand Spotlight: Pizza 4P's
- Yosuke Masuko and Sunny Masuko, Co-founders of Pizza 4P’s
A company with a purpose, Pizza 4P’s has a story to tell and a vision that captivated the audience. Providing an emotional, spiritual, and motivational end to the conference, Masuko and Sunny opened up about their struggles, victories and new ambitions like Retreat 4P’s.
As the founders took to the stage to share their journey from serving pizza at house parties in Japan to founding Vietnam’s leading locally-grown pizza chain serving food with a sustainable ethos, conference attendees got a rare opportunity to hear from the publicity-shy entrepreneurs. Read about their vision and journey here.