Franchise leaders sailed into Saigon Thursday, beginning the second leg of a U.S. trade mission at a sparkling reception on the roof of the historic Rex Hotel, where U.S. Consul General An Le welcomed the franchise delegation along with 80 local guests, the national media, and a sampling of delicate Vietnamese cuisine.
“It is appropriate that the same week we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the first bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam, we welcome this delegation of top franchise leaders, “ the Consul General said. “On this mission are successful businesses that hope to open enterprises in Vietnam. This trade mission is symbolic of the cooperation between our two nations – a growing win-win partnership.”
Earlier in the day, the franchise leaders explored Hanoi’s booming real estate market courtesy of CBRE’s office in the bustling capital. Delegation members peeked into restaurant kitchens, asked about square footage, leases and parking, and munched on a wide range of food from KFC chicken tenders (thumbs up, according to the franchise leaders) to sweet and salty Hanoi chicken wings laced with cinnamon and basil.
“They’re tasty,” said Which Wich founder, CEO and Chief Vibe Officer Jeff Spinelli, munching on a cinnamon wing. “They’re different.” Which Wich, a customized sandwich concept, is launching its international expansion in Vietnam, rather than taking the more traditional route of growth into Mexico and Canada nearer to the U.S. market.
Vietnam offers clear attributes. Sixty percent of its population of 88 million is under 35 and hungers for American brands, which are viewed as high-quality and high end. The term “fast food” in Vietnamese carries the connotation of being sophisticated and fun, increasingly chosen by young people in good jobs with rising disposable income.
KFC has had made the biggest play in Vietnam among U.S. brands, with 100 stores and counting. Other western brands already operating in Vietnam include Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Swensen’s Ice Cream, Carls Jr., Domino’s Pizza and Popeyes Chicken. Burger King is preparing to open at the airport – which already has the media buzzing. Round Table Pizza and Starbucks are set to open next year.
Franchise leaders gave high marks to the U.S. Commercial Service sponsors, who partnered with IFA and Franchise Times on this mission including 19 U.S. brands. “The meetings were informative and well presented and the site visits were also very valuable,” said Scott Chorna, Director of New Business Development at FOCUS Brands. “The U.S. Commercial Service has done a fantastic job in providing those opportunities. Although franchising is in the early stages in Vietnam, we found the quality of the partner candidates to be very high, and we are all excited about the prospects for development in this market.”
“This is the best franchising delegation I have ever seen,” said Frank Joseph, the Saigon Commercial Officer who coordinated over 100 meetings for the 19 brands on the mission. “The U.S. brands are tapping into pent-up demand with great products and services. We’re excited.”
“The U.S. Commercial Services Global Franchise Team led by Kristin Houston and her colleagues has worked tirelessly to bring together the best of America with the best of Vietnam,” said Beth Solomon, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Industry Relations. “The Commercial Service is the gold standard when it comes to facilitating international buisness development.”
Posted by Beth Solomon, IFA Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Industry Relations