Second time around

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Two foreign brands which failed to garner Vietnamese interest when they were first marketed here are back for a second foray into the local market.

US brewer Molson Coors, which teamed up with Vietnam Brewery Ltd. in 2006 to market Coors Light Beer, is trying it again but this time with a different partner - Viet Thai International.

Molson Coors had high hopes of success from its partnership with Vietnam Brewery after seeing the latter's success with Heineken and Tiger beer.

But the marriage proved unworkable and Molson Coors retired from the scene two years later after racking up a considerable loss.

Still, the experience taught the American company a lot about doing business in Vietnam, where chairman Peter Coors has long seen great potential for his brand.

Coors blames the early failure on an ill-matched partnership and slower-than-expected growth of Vietnam's beer market.

The chairman says his company's erstwhile partner didn't put the same effort into promoting Coors Light as it did with the other two beer brands.

With a new and committed partner in Viet Thai International, Peter Coors is once again looking forward to success with Coors Light in Vietnam.

For Unilever, which unlike Coors has been very successful in Vietnam, the bugbear is Wall's ice cream, which might seem odd in a land where the kids love ice cream with a passion second to none.

In the initial marketing of Wall's starting in early 2000, Unilever

Vietnam ran a series of sales campaigns to win over Vietnamese taste buds with plenty of support from its US parent.

It even dispatched employees to every corner of the country to distribute small units of Wall's ice cream, but to no avail.

Deeply out of pocket from the exercise, Unilever gave up in 2004 and sold the Wall's business, including the factory in Cu Chi District, for US$20 million to the Vietnamese confectionery maker Kinh Do Corp.

Five years later, Unilever came up with a new marketing strategy for

Wall's and launched it with much fanfare last September.

Economists said Wall's failed in Vietnam as it was not the right time for the brand to launch the "blockbuster promotions while the market size was still small. Secondly, the brand did not do enough to target the right customers, and aimed for a market segment that was too large. Heavy cost of promotion coupled with a problematic strategy led to the failure, they said.

"It's the right time, Unilever Vietnam chairman Marijn van Tiggelen said at the launch.

Tiggelen said Unilever would not build another production plant but would import Wall's ice cream from Thailand instead.

The emphasis this time would be on the mid-level consumer rather than the mass market, he said.

Never say never

Before the launch, Unilever Vietnam collaborated with German wholesaler Metro Cash and Carry to market Wall's ice cream through Metro's stores in Vietnam.

Nguyen Thi Nga, a store owner in Ho Chi Minh City's District 11, said Wall's was struggling to gain market share despite Unilever's financial and technical inducements for retailers. For example, it provided freezers free of charge and cut its prices.

Ice cream from Kinh Do Corp. is Wall's biggest rival.

The local corporation's chairman, Tran Kim Thanh, said Kinh Do was unfazed about the return of Wall's as it had had five years to restructure and prepare.

One of Kinh Do's strategies was to localize Wall's products to make the brand more attractive to Vietnamese consumers, a strategy that had brought tremendous growth of 20 percent from ice cream, Thanh said.

Returning to beer, Peter Coors said Vietnam was one of Molson Coor's five targeted markets, the others including Spain and Russia, and the brewer had no intention of quitting this time.

David Thai, CEO of Viet Thai International, said Vietnam was among the world's fastest growing beer markets as per capita beer consumption had risen to 23-25 liters from 13 liters ten years earlier.

Thai said the promise of the market was its growth rate of 23 percent on average, and 30 percent for premium beer, which accounts for 20 percent of the market.

Among other places, Molson Coors and Viet Thai International will sell Coors Light through the Hard Rock Café and high-end establishments already licensed to Viet Thai as part of its "premium marketing strategy.

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