The stage was set, the lights were on, and the aroma of Vietnamese coffee filled the air. The eye-catching orange theme ready to convey vibrancy and energy to the ballroom. As people in suits began to arrive, warm handshakes from familiar faces greeted them to signal the start of new connections with everyone else coming.
This year’s Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference is all set – Lý Gia Viên’s giving out fresh croissants, our friends from the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise brought in their best dairy products, Lacaph’s cold brew and hot drinks kept everyone engaged, and Andros Asia’s booth recharged the crowd serving refreshing mocktails.
But it wasn't just about the food (and drinks). Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference is a melting pot of ideas, perspectives, and experiences.
Thanks to Vietcetera and Mastercard, their collaboration to curate an unparalleled gathering, bringing together the brightest minds and industry leaders of Vietnam's food and beverage scene, has set the bar to a higher standard. Once again, on its fourth year, the celebration served as a dynamic platform for emerging names to join forces with established figures to explore this rapidly evolving industry’s past, present, and future of this rapidly changing industry.
The conference, which took place in both of Vietnam's largest cities, proved to be a resounding success. The first event was held on March 10th at the Novotel Hanoi Thai Ha in Hanoi, followed by another gathering of industry icons and experts at The Global City in Ho Chi Minh City on March 17th.
Despite being two separate events, the common goal of creating a knowledge-sharing platform for the food and beverage industry remained the same. Attendees left with a deeper appreciation of Vietnamese cuisine and newfound knowledge of the fast-changing F&B landscape.
The Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference ultimately highlighted some of the finest aspects of Vietnam's gastronomy scene, paving the way for further growth and success in the industry. Rather than offering a minute-by-minute account of the event, this article focuses on the sectors that have brought Vietnam into the spotlight and the leaders promoting them on a global scale.
Vietnamese coffee - beans and farmers
During the fireside chat, ‘Battle of the Beans - Exploring the Latest Coffee Trends in Search of the Perfect Cup,’ Lacaph founder and managing partner Timen Swijtink shared the potential Vietnam holds compared to other coffee-producing countries.
“Vietnam is one of the few countries with a distinct coffee culture. In comparison, other countries may have unique coffee cultures but don’t grow their coffee. In Vietnam, the entire supply chain exists within about a six-hour drive from each other.”
Timen also mentioned Vietnamese farmers as being key players in the coffee industry. They particularly support local coffee farmers and promote Vietnamese coffee internationally. However, they intend to change how they produce the beans. Since the country’s coffee production is 94% robusta, “we need to change the robusta farms from quantity-oriented to quality-oriented.” That way, they can produce high-quality robustas, eventually becoming high-quality coffee.
Despite the quality of Vietnamese coffee beans, the country is not yet proficient in marketing its product on the global stage, Timen said,“I recognize that Vietnam is an amazing product, but we’re not yet good at marketing them on a global stage. Not many great Vietnamese brands are super successful abroad, but they’re changing – we now have Mot Shoes and Marou. And Lacaph wants to be a part of that.”
With the robusta bean as its cornerstone, Vietnam's coffee industry has vast potential for expansion and achievement if it places greater attention on marketing and promotion.
Desserts - pastries, confectionaries, and whatnot
During the panel discussion entitled ‘The Future Looks Sweet: Finding harmony between local culture and international techniques,’ Le Tran Thien Hanh, head pastry chef at The Monkey Gallery Dining & Dessert Bar, said the future of the pastry and dessert industry in Vietnam is something she can’t foresee.
However, one thing she’s sure of is it’s going to be “totally different.” According to Hanh, chefs will become more open to expressing their personality through their dishes and creations. She said instead of applying what chefs learned from training, desserts in the future will “speak a lot about who you are.”
During the discussion in Hanoi, Hoả Quốc Anh, COO of C’est Si Bon and Olive Studio, said the demand in the “sweet” industry is booming. According to Anh, Vietnam is capable of supplying the increasing demand, and “because of that, the market is in good condition for growth in the next five years.”
Also in Hanoi, Ly Ngoc Thiep of Ly Gia Vien, a leading importer and distributor of kitchen equipment, discussed the changes and developments in the industry, including the shift in demand for equipment and the impact of technology on artisanal bakers.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a dessert discussion without chocolates. Vincent Marou of Marou Chocolate shared the distinctiveness of chocolate as a sweet product, the tendency to buy sweets as gifts in Vietnam, and how they incorporate local culture into their chocolate flavors.
Fine Dining - Michelin Guide vs. Street Food
In a fireside chat with Hoang Tung moderated by Hao Tran, titled “Asia 50 Best and Michelin Guide come to Vietnam - Pressure or Validation?” The chat explored the impact of these prestigious restaurant rankings on the Vietnamese culinary scene.
“To me, the Michelin is not the final destination; it is a recognition of what you have done and is going through. And it’s special for Vietnam.” Tung told Hao that even with the added pressure, they must operate the same way and remain consistent with their offer.
In another panel discussion titled “From Michelin to Munchies: Is it Possible to Bring Fine Dining to the Street,” Julien Perraudin, head chef of Quince, and Pedro Goizueta, executive chef and founder of Iberico, explored the challenges of bringing fine dining to the street. They discussed the efforts required to create an inviting atmosphere and the differences in standards between street food and Michelin-rated restaurants. The panel acknowledged that Michelin ratings might not be possible for street food, but they also explored how street food vendors can still provide exceptional dining experiences.
“The standards are quite different,” Pedro said. “I think street foods need another measurement, not Michelin Star.”
The discussions reflect the ongoing conversations within the culinary industry regarding the impact of awards and ratings on restaurants. They also highlight the efforts being made to create exceptional dining experiences, regardless of the setting or the level of recognition received.
Food & Beverage digital marketing strategies
Visuals are essential marketing strategies on social media. It is crucial to establish a goal based on the purpose and budget and create visually appealing content to capture the audience's attention and make them come to the restaurant.
Duc Bui and Khanh Ngoc, FPDB Creative's creative director and COO, respectively, are on a mission to promote Vietnamese cuisine and the food industry to the world. They emphasize the importance of capturing the audience's attention in the first two seconds and how visuals play a significant role in achieving that goal.
Duc and Khanh emphasized how social media has become one of the primary sources of information, and photos influence our emotions and perception of a brand. We often come across restaurants through word of mouth, great experiences, or sharing with friends and family. However, social media gives us suggestions on where to visit next and what to order based on visuals.
“Everything starts with a picture, and the first impression matters,” said Bui. It’s all about the hook, they added. The hook for any food and beverage brand is its photo. Visuals can create a feeling of surprise, uniqueness, straightforwardness, and curiosity, depending on the type of image. The power couple shared the three visuals we see online: single, editorial, and lifestyle.
Single photos of food can make us crave and feel attracted to it. Editorial images with arrangements, background color, and information can make us interested in knowing more about the restaurant. Lifestyle images can give us an authentic feel of the restaurant and the human touch and create a sense of familiarity.
They also shared collages that effectively combine editorial images with single photos to showcase the restaurant's unique selling point (USP) and attract potential customers. A consistent visual theme has become a trend in Vietnam, which helps establish a brand identity and differentiate it from competitors.
However, creating visually appealing content can take time and effort, especially for SMEs with limited budgets. That is why they instituted the FPDB Academy, offering SMEs an opportunity to learn how to take photos and create beautiful collections on a budget.
For Vu My Linh of NoFoodPhobia, who spoke at the Hanoi conference, social media used to be a platform for authentic reviews on food and restaurants. As a longtime influencer, she uses her social media accounts to express her honest opinions on the food venues she visits. Amidst the rise of social media marketing and using KOLs to promote specific establishments, she aims to deliver sincere and straightforward perspectives based on her personal experiences.
Two exciting culinary events are coming up: the Rising Chefs Challenge in April and the Vietnam Restaurant and Bar Week in May-June. The Vietnam Restaurant and Bar Week has been expanded to two weeks, extended to the beach city of Danang, and will feature more restaurants and bars than ever before.