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Vietnam Supermarkets: Foreign Retailer’s Guide 2024

Supermarkets are rapidly proliferating in Vietnam. This is on the back of rising incomes and improved market entry conditions. These supermarkets are one of the easiest ways for foreign producers to get their products in front of Vietnamese consumers with a more Western style of doing business.

What to expect at Vietnam supermarkets

Size

Supermarkets in Vietnam are typically a bit smaller than elsewhere in the world. This is in large part due to a shortage of space in Vietnam’s biggest cities but also due to the limited availability of some products in Vietnam. That said, as Vietnam’s cities add urban sprawl bigger supermarkets have begun to spring up in outer suburbs.

Hours

Supermarkets in Vietnam generally open around 8 am and close around 10 pm. It would be unusual to find a supermarket open 24 hours, though convenience stores tend to keep longer hours.

Food courts

Most of the bigger supermarkets in Vietnam will have a small food court selling a range of local meals and dishes. It’s not unusual for there to be small dining areas as well which are popular among office workers looking for quick, cheap, lunch options.

No carry baskets

Customers typically take a small shopping trolley or a hard plastic basket, something akin to a carry-on suitcase, with an extended handle and wheels that can be pulled around the supermarket. Carry baskets are not common in supermarkets in Vietnam.

Products

Live seafood is common in Vietnamese supermarkets. Huge fish tanks are usually found in and around the meat and poultry section. Salmon and pangasius fish are widely consumed in Vietnam.

In the meat section, pork is typically the most popular alongside chicken. Beef is available but often badly butchered with the parts indistinguishable from each other–to find a properly cut T-bone steak in a supermarket in Vietnam would be an anomaly.

There are a broad range of fruits and vegetables available at Vietnamese supermarkets. Many of these are imported–it’s not uncommon to see US, Australian, New Zealand or Korean flag stickers on many of the less tropical fruits. Of note, fruits and vegetables are generally weighed and priced in the produce department rather than at the checkout. 

Dairy is huge in Vietnam. Milk has become an important fixture in Vietnamese diets, particularly among children. Fresh milk, however, is not as common as long-life milk. 

Most supermarkets also carry a range of frozen goods.

Customer service

Staff are typically paid pretty close to the minimum wage in Vietnam. This is around VND 22,500 which is about US$.94 cents an hour. With this in mind, a self-serve checkout would be very unusual given the cost of buying and running the necessary technology is far more costly than simply hiring someone to provide the checkout service.

There is also generally a customer service counter that accepts returns and exchanges and separately a bag check. This is sometimes a counter of its own run by a member of staff, although sometimes it is a bank of self-serve lockers–There is generally a security guard at the entrance and exit.

Payments

QR codes

Vietnam’s banking industry has developed a QR code system whereby users can scan a QR code and make a direct bank transfer. This can be time-consuming and often causes delays at the checkout. The benefit to consumers and supermarkets is that they save on fees and transfers are instant.

Cash

Cash is still widely accepted in Vietnam and in many cases preferred. There are generally few problems accepting large notes at most supermarkets. This is as opposed to using a VND 500,000 (US$20.30) at a local wet market which can be challenging for local traders to break.

Bank cards

Card payments are not as popular in Vietnam as they are elsewhere in the world. The aforementioned QR code system may be part of the reason why but also credit cards have never really gained traction with Vietnamese preferring to spend only what they have. Note that a large part of the Vietnamese population is still unbanked and in the countryside, there is not a lot to buy that warrants a credit facility anyway.

Vietnam supermarkets in numbers

Vietnam has a number of local and international supermarket chains operating throughout the country. In recent years, foreign players in particular have expanded widely, particularly South Korea’s Lotte Mart and Thailand’s Big C and Go! brands.

Supermarkets in Vietnam in numbers, 2024

NameHCMCHanoiOthersTotal
Aeon Citimart140014
Aeon Maxvalu015116
Big C/ Go!732838
BRG Mart010515
Coopmart43679128
Emart3003
Fujimart0606
Lanchimart0101424
Lotte Mart53917
MegaMarket441321
Sakuko0261541
Satramart3003
Tops Market4509
Winmart204566131
Total103133230466

Source: Vietnam retail store trends (Modern Commerce) in 2024

Notes for new market entrants

Vietnam Retailers Association

Vietnam supermarkets are often represented by the Vietnam Retailers Association. This organisation is based out of Hanoi and often advocates to the government on behalf of retailers operating in Vietnam.

Consumer protections

Consumer protections are detailed in the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights. That said, the institutions established to enforce this law are relatively weak. Furthermore, many businesses are unaware of their obligations or simply refuse to adhere to the regulations, the reality being that making a claim can more often than not be more trouble than it’s worth. This law, however, can be enforced on occasion and as such foreign firms should make sure they are familiar and compliant.

Economic Needs Tests (ENT)

Note that, retail outlets may need to complete an economic needs test. This only applies to the second retail establishment, however, this is worth keeping in mind in the planning stages. An ENT basically requires a retail business to prove that it is both needed in the geographical space in which it intends to operate and that it will not negatively impact the local community. A  decision on an ENT is generally made by the local government.

That said, the ENT has been removed for investors in member states of some international agreements. For parties to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, an ENT is no longer required. It is also not required when the retailer intends to lease space in a shopping centre or mall.

See also: Company Formation in Vietnam: Technical Guide 2024

Investing in Vietnam’s supermarket industry

Listed Vietnam supermarkets

One way to buy into Vietnam’s growing demand for supermarkets is to consider buying into stocks listed on one of Vietnam’s stock exchanges. There are no foreign ownership limits on supermarkets in Vietnam, however, opening a trading account can sometimes be challenging and time-consuming.

That said, if an investor can bear out the bureaucracy, there is money to be made in supermarket stocks.

Probably the most well-known listed supermarket purveyor is Masan Group. Masan was primarily in food processing and distribution, however, the firm bought up a chain of supermarkets and convenience stores under the Vinmart brand from Vietnam’s Vingroup in 2019. These have subsequently been rebranded to Winmart.

An extension of the Winmart convenience store chain, Winmart supermarkets provide basically the same thing as their smaller counterparts but are much bigger. They are known by their red and white branding and are often located in Vinhomes properties, a legacy from their days as part of Vingroup.

What’s next?

Vietnam supermarkets are becoming increasingly popular with local consumers. Their wide range of products, particularly imported goods, have proven very attractive to Vietnam’s growing middle class, and as such they are popping up all over the country.

With no foreign ownership limits, foreign supermarket chains have also made a lot of headway in the market, though there is definitely room for more. In this respect, foreign retailers willing to take the time to study the market and make a thoughtful market entry may find that it is a very lucrative move.For more information let us connect you with an expert on establishing a retail presence in Vietnam, and make sure to keep up to date with developments in the supermarket industry by subscribing to the-shiv.

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