After a half-a-year delay, ‘Flavors Vietnam’ is finally happening. Vietcetera, in partnership with Mastercard, is hosting the biggest celebration of Vietnam’s food and beverage industry. This year’s event, officially kicking off tomorrow, will include offline and online conferences, award ceremonies, competitions and multimedia series.
The Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference, one of the key events of the annual program, will be held in two locations — for the first time — as the industry’s most prominent names, entrepreneurs and culinary enthusiasts come together in Hanoi on February 11 and in Ho Chi Minh City on February 18.
As we gear up for the Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference 2022, here’s a recap of all the highlights and takeaways from the 2020 event.
The first edition of the Vietnam Food & Beverage Conference in 2020 was made possible by restaurant tech startup KAMEREO. The morning conference — held before the Banh Mi Awards in the evening — was a golden opportunity to hear from elder statesmen of the country’s F&B industry.
From industry trends to investment opportunities and branding tips, more than a dozen industry experts shared stories of success and overcoming challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the panelists shared one thing in common: A positive outlook toward the future of Vietnam’s thriving F&B scene.
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 these platforms’ marketing power and logistics networks.
The out-of-home dining trend had been a boon for retailers, with sales at Annam stores booming during the 2020 lockdowns. In the wake of the pandemic, the group hoped to continue capturing demand from grocery shopping.
A category that’s been performing exceptionally well — alcohol sales — had remained on an upward trajectory after the first and second COVID waves, said Diageo’s Duc Anh. With very healthy distribution sales in 2020, the group planned to be more aggressive in 2021.
On the hospitality side, Maximo admitted that hotel room bookings are nowhere near pre-COVID numbers, but with events booming there continues to be a positive momentum.
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 Luan of Speed POS, being able to better understand his daughter’s generation — they “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 that 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, thought Kristian. As consumers got a taste of bar-quality martinis delivered to their doorstep during the lockdown, they asked 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 like 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 gave an example of the Racha Room that saw healthy weekend traffic of 80-90% Vietnamese.
Kristian also saw 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, observed 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, bartending competitions, gin fests and other touchpoints 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 recommended 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, said 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 Joshua, 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, which designed iconic Vietnamese brands like Marou and Pizza 4P’s, remained 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 was why This is Rice had been successful, too.
Chris of Doodle Brands advocated 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 that, 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 took these lessons on board when developing its newest property, JW Marriott resort in Cam Ranh.
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 advocated 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 was 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.