Unhealthy foreign forces taking over Vietnam food

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Vietnam needs brains that can build famous brands with its delicious, healthy foods and drinks

 People queue during the opening of Vietnam's first McDonald's restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City on February 8/ PHOTO: AFP

When McDonald’s opened its first eatery in Ho Chi Minh City on February 8, almost 1,000 people lined up to buy the products of the world’s largest restaurant chain.

So, in the end, to buy a fast food meal, customers had to wait for nearly one hour, which is ironic but also makes sense.

McDonald’s fast foods have the attraction of a global brand – once the brand is famous, it is much more attractive than the product’s quality. Americans have showed how talented they are at building a brand: decades after it was founded, McDonald’s is now not only a name, but also an icon, an empire.

About one year ago, Starbucks also opened its first store in Vietnam with a long line of Vietnamese customers. When it first announced its plan to enter the country, the world’s largest coffee shop chain already drew a great deal of public and media attention.

It is impossible to not feel jealous of McDonald’s and Starbucks, because after conquering most of the world market, they are now taking over market shares in Vietnam as well.

What do Vietnamese businesses have to do to achieve similar success, even just a small part of it?

Dang Le Nguyen Vu, founder of Trung Nguyen Group Corp. – Vietnam’s biggest coffee retailer, once claimed that: “Starbucks is a giant without personality” when asked if his brand was intimidated by the world chain’s arrival in Vietnam.

Vu is not the only one to be proud of Vietnamese coffee, which he said “is the best, the cleanest, most special coffee.”

The ambitious businessman even planned to build a global brand and “a coffee empire” within the next 10 years to rival Starbucks and finally replace it.

But, so far Vu has yet to be able to open Trung Nguyen’s first store in the US as planned, or grab even just a small piece of that country’s market to show Americans that Trung Nguyen does not sell “water that smells like coffee with the addition of sugar” like Starbucks does.

Actually, instead of trying to compete with international businesses in the world market, Vietnamese companies only need to make efforts to a build a brand of food or drink that can conquer part of Vietnam’s 90 million population. That alone is enough for them to become rich.

It is a sad situation that while Vietnam is home to many world famous foods like pho (beef noodle soup) and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), local people are being lured by Western foods and international brands like KFC, International Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Subway, and Lotteria.

These brands have been making fortunes, even though health experts keep warning that fast foods can cause obesity and other diseases.

In fact, in Hanoi we have a pho restaurant where there is always a long line of people waiting to eat traditional beef noodle soup that has been sold for decades.

But the daily scene at the restaurant, locally known as Pho Bat Dan, only reminds one of the scene where people had to queue to buy food with government-issued coupons before Doi Moi (Vietnam's open door economic policy) in 1986, instead of tempting one to check it out.

The restaurant’s “brand,” moreover, is still limited to Hanoi people.

Vietnam does not lack delicious and original foods, but it does lack a businesslike brain capable of building these foods into brands. The shortage is not restricted to the field of food and drink, it is almost everywhere.

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