Entering the Vietnamese market can be a rewarding venture for food and drink exporters. With its growing economy and increasing appetite for international flavours, Vietnam offers substantial opportunities for sales – not only in the manufacturing space.

However, success requires more than just high-quality products – it’s not enough to simply throw products into the market and assume they will do well. Effective branding strategies and a deep understanding of the local market are crucial as it can be a complicated market to get a foot in the door.

Consumer Insights

The country boasts a population of nearly 100 million people, with 27 million families, making the food and beverage industry in Vietnam an interesting sector to be a part of. The country is currently experiencing a “golden population structure,” with a 1% annual increase. Just 5.5% of the population is over 65 (census figures from beginning 2023) with 25% being under 15. This demographic trend is favourable for the development of innovative food products and assists the acceptance for food and beverage exporters to the country.

Over recent years, Vietnam has emerged as a burgeoning market for international trade, with a growing appetite for novel culinary experiences. International exporters have recognised this opportunity and have been making significant strides in establishing their presence in Vietnam. Products like sausages, infant nutrition, dairy, chocolates, and specialty beverages are now common on Vietnamese dining tables and supermarket shelves. However, achieving success in this discerning market requires more than just quality products; effective branding strategies are crucial for overseas exporters to differentiate themselves and capture the attention of Vietnamese consumers.

Vietnamese consumers are known for being price-sensitive and brand-conscious. They often look for products that offer good value for money. While European brands, especially from countries like Germany, the UK, and France, enjoy a reputation for high quality, they must still compete on price and establish strong brand loyalty through strategic marketing. Country of origin alone is no longer sufficient reason for a product to sell well.

Understanding Local Culture

Local culture plays a significant role in the success of foreign brands in Vietnam. For example, products that are tailored to local tastes and preferences are more likely to succeed. This could mean adapting flavours to suit Vietnamese palates or understanding seasonal and regional variations in consumer behaviour.

Additionally, the tropical climate in Vietnam presents unique challenges, especially for products like chocolate and dairy that require specific storage & transport conditions. Exporters must consider these factors and work with local distributors and retailers who understand the logistical and cultural nuances. Also the geography adds an additional layer of complexity if you are trying to be distributed really throughout the country as last mile logistics can be complex and are still often carried out on motorbikes.

Price sensitivity (& lack of storage space in homes) means that small packages are often preferred (it also helps you keep the price down).

Potential for European Brands

European brands have a considerable potential in Vietnam, thanks to their strong reputation for quality and safety. Vietnamese consumers still often perceive products from Europe as being of higher quality compared to local alternatives. This perception can be leveraged in branding and marketing strategies to create a premium positioning.

However, the competition is fierce, not just from local brands but also from other international players. To stand out, European brands must offer something unique, whether it’s a distinctive flavour, an innovative product, or a compelling brand story that resonates with Vietnamese consumers.

eg. Zott Monte established themselves as a market leader in the children’s dessert market, by offering their creamy puddings in a vanilla flavour and at a competitive price. They also offered stores fridges to store the products in, overcoming any objections about logistics challenges. These are seen as been a small and relatively healthy treat for kids that contain milk (and therefore also milk nutrients).

When they entered Vietnam 15 years ago, the target was children aged six months to two years. The company understood that mothers wanted a healthy start for their kids, so they positioned their brand as offering nutritious solutions. Now, the preferences have shifted towards more active and healthy lifestyles, so Zott has adapted their campaigns to highlight the nutritional benefits of the products, using channels like e-commerce and social media to reach Gen Z mothers.

Navigating Food and Beverage Registration and Labelling in Vietnam

Navigating the food product registration and labeling process in Vietnam requires adherence to specific regulations & can be tricky in the specific details. You, as food and drink exporters, need to closely coordinate with your importer here and consider also liaising with your local trade commissioner if possible as they can assist with any hitches.

Whilst the country counts as stable politically, there’ve been some recent upheavals and corruption scandals, and it pays to remember that Vietnam’s legal system is basically a socialist/communist one no matter how dynamic things are on the streets and markets.

Vietnam Food Labelling

Local language labelling of food products is mandatory for distribution and sale in Vietnam, with certain exceptions for specific types of items like unpacked raw food, fresh food, and some processed foods. For all other food items, a comprehensive label (it can be a sticker) must include the following key information:

  • Name of the food
  • Name and address of the producer, importer, and assembler
  • Weight and volume
  • Ingredients
  • Country of origin
  • Instructions on storage
  • Instructions on usage
  • Production date & expiration date

Food Product Registration: Self-Declared or Formally Declared

Enterprises and individuals in Vietnam have two options for food product registration: self-declaration or formal declaration.

Self-Declaration

Self-declaration allows companies to take full responsibility for the safety and hygiene of their food products. This involves making public announcements on their websites, multimedia platforms, or at their corporate offices, assuring consumers of the safety standards adhered to.

Formal Declaration

Certain food items require a formal registration process with the Ministry of Health before being introduced to the market. According to Article 6 of Decree 15/2018/ND-CP, the distinction between self-declaration and registration for declaration is as follows:

Self-declarationRegistration for declaration
* Processed and prepackaged food* Health supplement or dietary supplement
* Food additives* Food for special medical purposes or medical food
* Food processing aids* Food for special dietary uses
* Food containers* Dietary products for children up to 36 months
* Packaging materials in direct contact with food* Mixed food additives with new uses, food additives not on the allowed list or for the right users, regulated by MOH

Food & Beverage Products: Rules & Regulations

Western food consumption in Vietnam currently stands at 35%, driven by the presence of foreign brands and a growing middle class. Importing food and beverages into Vietnam requires strict adherence to local food safety regulations and this will be checked at the port of entry.

For minor changes, such as packaging size or label information, approval from the Vietnam Food Safety Authority (VFA) is mandatory. Significant changes to your product may require a new Certificate of Conformity Declaration, highlighting the importance of seeking specialist consultation to ensure compliance and avoid penalties. Some importers offer this service, but it may be better to consult and external expert who is really focused on this topic, especially if you have a product which can be considered as sensitive in some way.

Importer Requirements

Importers must adhere to specific requirements, including:

  • Compiling necessary documents for customs regulations and declaration.
  • Registering through the Vietnam Automated Cargo and Post-consolidated System.
  • Submitting declaration forms in advance or within 30 days of product arrival, with inspections categorised as simplified, ordinary, or strict based on the type of food and beverage.
  • Preparing documents such as a signed bill of lading, importer details, and seals for obtaining a delivery order.
  • Providing customs declaration results and settling VAT and import tax payments.

Essential Documents for Food and Beverage Registration

The registration process for importing food and beverages into Vietnam requires thorough documentation tailored to the specific product type. Key documents include:

  • Certificate of Food Safety and Hygiene Standards: Certifies that high-risk products adhere to hygiene and safety standards.
  • Certificate of Good Manufacturing Practice: Confirms that the manufacturing site and methods comply with good manufacturing practice requirements.
  • Certificate of Analysis: Certifies that comprehensive physical, chemical, and microbiological tests have been conducted in the country of origin.
  • Declaration of Conformity: Confirms that products with potential risks align with Vietnamese standards and regulations.

For distributing products within Vietnam, producers must self-announce food safety quality and regulatory compliance to the Ministry of Health. The application dossier should include:

  • Food Safety Data Sheet: Issued within the preceding 12 months, specifying safety indicators prescribed by the Ministry of Health and conducted by a designated or ISO 17025-compliant laboratory.
  • Product Samples
  • Product Labels
  • Enterprise Registration Certificate (ERC)
  • Certificate of Free Sale or Health Certificate
  • Product Profile
  • Certificate of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)

Make sure that the product names and also your company name is spelled in EXACTLY the same way on all the documents that you submit, otherwise they may be rejected. It sounds easy, but ERP systems often have different numbers of characters available for products and things sometimes get shortened which may result in you having to correct documents manually prior to submission.

Understanding and adhering to these regulations is crucial for successful market entry and sustained presence for food and drink exporters.

DO: Start your market entry process now to capitalise on the growth opportunities before the competition increases further.

Key Strategies for Success

Effective Branding and Marketing

Success in Vietnam requires more than just exporting a product. Brands need to invest in robust marketing campaigns that educate consumers about the product’s benefits and unique qualities. This could involve sampling events, social media campaigns, and partnerships with local influencers. Vietnamese consumer can be demanding so you need to consider how you can best use your budgets for the most impact.

eg. Ritter Sport (chocolate) introduced their chocolate through sampling events in supermarkets, emphasizing their German origin with a small flag on the packaging, signifying quality. They were also extremely careful in their selection of sales outlets to make sure that the necessary temperature controls were in place.

Leveraging Digital Platforms

With the rise of e-commerce and social media, digital platforms have become essential for reaching Vietnamese consumers. As a brand, you should focus on building a strong online presence through platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and local e-commerce sites such as Tiki and Shopee. Tiktok is also extremely influential these days and the popularity of social commerce and livestreaming is sky rocketing.

These channels are probably where you need to be spending a considerable amount of your branding budget (in collaboration with local influencers). That doesn’t mean that you should ignore offline sales though as a significant portion of sales still take place there!

Adapting to Local Preferences

Understanding and catering to local tastes is crucial in any market. This might involve modifying product formulations or offering products that meet local dietary habits and preferences. For instance, post-pandemic, health-conscious consumers are increasingly looking for nutritious and natural products.

When I was involved in selling baby food to Vietnam for HiPP, one of the key products in the market was a rice cereal which mothers could mix with fresh vegetables and perhaps shrimps from the market to make a nutritious meal for their child. The high quality assurance of HiPP’s organic quality (see also my point below about quality assurance) evoked trust in consumers, meaning that we sent a lot of (Italian) rice to Vietnam (a net exporter of rice).

Flavour profiles tend to be more savoury and bold than in Europe. Products from other markets that are light in taste often require adaptation. So for instance, you can find beef or hot chilli flavour chips or perhaps tamarind and shrimp…

food and drink exporters need to adapt their flavours to local taste - snack shelves in the supermarket

Drinks tend to be really sweet (for my personal taste) however they are mostly also served with ice, which tends to then dilute the flavour so you don’t quite feel like you need your dentist on speed dial!

Building Trust through Quality Assurance

Given the competitive landscape, maintaining a reputation for quality is vital and like their neighbours the Chinese, Vietnamese consumers are often worried about the quality of the foods they buy. Brands must ensure that their products consistently meet high standards and communicate this commitment to consumers. Clear labelling, transparent sourcing, and third-party certifications can help build trust. Don’t forget that consistently high quality packaging is also a factor to convince consumers of your quality in Vietnam. Even the smallest variations in the print colours can raise the question whether this package is a fake or not…

Collaborating with Local Partners

Finding reliable local partners for distribution, marketing, and retail is essential for food and beverage exporters. These partners can provide valuable insights into market dynamics and help navigate regulatory requirements. They are literally your door into the market because however experienced you are, it’s likely that you don’t have the necessary relationships (& probably cultural and language skills) for growing food brands in Vietnam. (Or drinks).

In recent years, retailers became considerably more demanding in their requirements from brands who want to be on their shelf, so having the RIGHT partner who can leverage also the weight of their existing relationships and portfolio can make months of difference in your listings. This is probably the hardest part of your market entry – finding the right partner who shares your values and is passionate about developing your brand with you.

Don’t underestimate the importance of market visits

These are really the best way to get to understand the consumers’ preferences and to build relationships with your distributors. That way you can really get to know the requirements of each retailer and it will help you tailor your strategies to the market.

food and beverage exporters need the right strategies for food brands in Vietnam

The Future is bright for Food and Drink Exporters looking at Vietnam

Vietnam stands as an attractive investment destination due to its (relative) political stability, strategic infrastructure, ongoing improvements in education, and proactive foreign investment policies. Within this promising landscape, the Food & Beverage (F&B) sector emerges as particularly lucrative. The Vietnamese population shows a strong willingness to invest in food and beverages, not just for daily consumption but also for special occasions. (I’m always surprised when I see how much people are prepared to spend on food and drinks).

Vietnam presents a dynamic and promising market for food and beverage exporters. By understanding consumer insights, respecting local culture, leveraging the premium perception of European brands, and implementing strategic marketing and branding efforts, exporters can carve out a successful presence in this booming market. Make sure you really tailor your sales and marketing strategies to the needs of your consumers, bridging between online & offline channels. With the right approach, Vietnam’s growing appetite for international products can translate into substantial growth opportunities for food and beverage brands from around the world.


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