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Vietnam is the ready-meal frontier

Jan 13,2020
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Left: People in Vietnam try out CJ’s spring rolls. Right: People eating at a GS25 convenience store in Vietnam. [CJ CHEILJEDANG, GS RETAIL]
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Food and retail companies are actively expanding their footprints in the Vietnamese ready-meal market, as more young people in the country are looking for convenient and hygienic food.

CJ Cheiljedang is in the lead, distantly followed by GS Retail and Lotte Mart, pushing internationally popular Korean food like tteokbokki, or spicy rice cakes.

Ready meals are prepackaged, fresh or frozen meals that require few or no additional ingredients.

The ready-meal market in Vietnam has almost doubled over the past five years, from 1.39 trillion Vietnam dong ($59.96 million) in 2014 to 2.31 trillion Vietnam dong last year, according to London-based market research firm Euromonitor International. The market was largely led by frozen and shelf-stable ready meals.

CJ Corporation, which operates CJ Vietnam Food and CJ Cau Tre Foods, ranks second in the market. Its market share went from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 16 percent last year.

Saigon Trading Group (Satra) is the clear leader, with 33 percent market share as of last year. Satra is a multi-corporation enterprise with more than 70 subsidiaries. Vissan, a well-known meat brand in Vietnam, is one of them.

CJ Cheiljedang established CJ Food Vietnam in the Southeast Asian country in 2013. It spent around 35 billion won acquiring local food companies, like Vietnamese kimchi distributor Kim&Kim, frozen food firm Cau Tre and fish and meat processor Minh Dat Food from 2016 and 2017.

Eye-catching packaging and the introduction of more diverse flavors inspired by the Korean foods are seen as the keys to CJ’s growth in Vietnam.

Spring rolls and dumplings are CJ’s two most popular types of ready meals.

“We added kimchi inside the spring rolls and dumplings targeting local people who are well aware of kimchi and have experienced the taste of kimchi,” said a spokesperson for CJ.

“Quantitative and qualitative market growth in Vietnam is expected as the purchase of high-quality food is increasing with the rise in national income,” said CJ in a statement.

GS Retail, which operates convenience store franchise GS25 in Vietnam, is growing its ready-meals product offering with a focus on so-called Korean Food, including tteokbokki, chicken skewers and rabokki, which combines ramen with tteokbokki.

In Korea, cigarettes, beverages, beer and dairy products are the most in-demand items at GS25 stores, in that order. But in Vietnam, ready meals are the most popular category, followed by beverage and dairy products.

Cigarettes aren’t popular at Vietnamese convenience stores because they are sold at lower prices on the street, according to GS25.

GS25, which runs 57 stores in Vietnam, sells 80 types of ready meals.

“Vietnamese culture is to dine out or eat the food they bought outside at home, and the growing demand to conveniently eat a meal or snack at a hygienic place contributes to the popularity of ready meals,” according to a spokesperson for GS Retail.

The retailer operates two-storied stores for consumers wishing to eat inside. It also has drive-through stores in Vietnam, where the motorbike is the primary mode of transport.

Lotte Mart, which operates 14 stores in Vietnam, said the ready meal market in the country, including home-meal replacements, are not as developed as it is in the Korean market. But it is seeing growth in Vietnam, and Lotte Mart is expanding the categories of ready-meal products at Vietnamese stores.

The expanded ready-meal market in the Southeast Asian country has attracted new players like LC Foods, a U.S.-based food and beverage company that sells low-carb and gluten-free products.

“Thanks to the entrance of more new players such as LC Foods, the category is seeing more investment and more frequent new product launches,” said Anthony Chien, Senior Analyst at Euromonitor International.

“LC, for instance, entered the arena with a range of spring rolls featuring shrimp, squid, taro and pork. There are also more marketing activities visible in stores, such as samplings, displays and discount promotions by Vissan and CJ Cau Tre Foods.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]