HANOI: Vietnam’s Masan Group started out making instant noodles.
Now it has the stores to sell them, along with a host of other goods and services as Vietnam’s top retailer.
The group’s expansion continued in September, when Masan opened the first of the all-in-one stores it calls “minimalls” under its Win brand.
Lanh, an office worker living in Hanoi, has become a frequent customer.
“It’s nice to be able to buy fresh food and medicine near my home on the way back from work,” Lanh said.
The minimalls feature cafes, pharmacies and ATMs run by Masan Group companies.
Masan, whose investors include top Chinese e-commerce player Alibaba Group Holding and South Korean conglomerate SK Group, plans to open 100 Win minimalls nationwide.
It is not the only company chasing Vietnam’s growing middle class.
Thai and Japanese players are among the rivals moving in, with deregulation opening the door to more competition.
Chairman Nguyen Dang Quang founded Masan’s predecessor in 1996 as a purveyor of instant noodles, a line of work he started as an international student in the former Soviet Union.
Now Masan holds about one-quarter of Vietnam’s instant noodle market, an industry source said, putting the company second behind Japan’s Acecook.
Vietnam was the third largest consumer of instant noodles last year, at 8.6 billion servings, according to the World Instant Noodles Association.
China and Indonesia rank first and second, respectively.
Masan also holds more than a 50% share in nuoc mam fish sauce, which is all but essential in Vietnamese cuisine.
In 2014, the conglomerate expanded into beer, solidifying its position as a leading Vietnamese food and beverage group.
The purchase of Vingroup’s retail business in 2019 fuelled Masan’s growth in retail.
Masan took in 2,600 supermarkets and convenience stores from the deal with Vingroup, which was struggling to keep the locations profitable after a rapid expansion.
Amid speculation that a foreign buyer would take them, Masan stepped in with the goal of adding a sales network under its umbrella, an industry source said.
Masan became Vietnam’s fourth most valuable company by market capitalisation in 2021.
In a bid to add financial services to its portfolio, the group has picked up a 15% stake in private-sector lender Techcombank.
By having its various operations collaborate, Masan seeks to cater to Vietnam’s rapidly growing middle class.
Roughly half of Vietnamese households are expected to be middle class by 2030, according to Euromonitor International, with annual disposable income forecast to grow by more than 30%.
Masan now runs about 3,500 WinMart supermarkets and WinMart+ convenience stores.
The group will cut underperforming stores and add new locations until it reaches 10,000 shops under direct management in 2025.
It started franchising in December 2021.
“Our network of modern retail stores now has a 50% market share,” Quang said.
For the first three quarters of 2022, consolidated revenue dropped 14% on the year to 55.5 trillion dong, but net profit jumped 32% to about 3.95 trillion dong.
Masan has an advantage in being able to sell instant noodles and seasonings through its own distribution network.
Only a few rival supermarket chains operate in Hanoi, so the group enjoyed its pick of locations.
The conglomerate oversees an independent supply chain that spans pig farms to store shelves, contributing to its competitive advantage.
But Masan faces growing competition from foreign players.
Thailand’s Central Retail is spending 30 billion baht over five years to double its number of stores in Vietnam to more than 710.
Japan’s Aeon plans to open about 100 supermarkets in and around Hanoi by 2025.
Vietnam has drawn international interest as a post-Covid investment destination for multinationals.
The one-party communist state is set to abolish the economic needs test for foreign investment in the retail sector in 2024, which will allow in more international rivals for Masan.
Anticipating fierce price competition down the road, Masan is working to branch out.
One target is battery materials, which could position the company to ride an expected surge in electric vehicle use.
Masan owns a tungsten mine in Vietnam that is one of the world’s largest.
In 2020, the group announced the purchase of a tungsten business from a German seller, and in July it agreed to spend £45 million for a 15% stake in Nyobolt, a British battery developer.
Unlike Vingroup, Vietnam’s top private-sector conglomerate, Masan has no plans to expand into real estate.
Deputy CEO Michael Hung Nguyen cited the importance of responding to the basic needs of consumers.
Real estate carries business opportunities, but also the risk of losses, he said.