Netflix’s new street food series is mandatory viewing for every food and beverage marketeer

Netflix have just launched a series on street food. It contains important insights into the mindset of stall operators, the intimate relationship they enjoy with their clientele and of course the importance of taste and constant innovation. 

What is less well acknowledged, but equally important, is that several consumer brands have made this channel central to their success.

I found the first episode featuring a wiry, 73 year old Thai chef, called Jay Fai, fascinating.

Jay Fai

The programme takes us through Jay Fai’s culinary journey, from first experimenting with the wok, taking a loan to open a stall, going upmarket with large tiger prawns to developing a crab meat omelette, one of her signature dishes. We learn the importance of ‘rich and tasty stock’, attention to detail in ingredient preparation and constantly listening to customer feedback. 

The food photography was stunning with mouth watering shots of boiling curries and drunken noodles, all deftly prepared on flaming charcoal.

The street food business involves unsociable hours, a 7 day work week not to forget the heat and humidity. Landlords and Government regulations are a constant headache. However Jay’s passion and energy shine through.

Over the years I’ve sat in focus groups and heard consumers replay their associations with food, consumption occasions and brands. Some of the most indelible involve street food. One reason is taste, the food is freshly cooked and served immediately. Another is the social aspect, it’s an informal, relaxed and familal environment with friends, relations and children.

Recently, the perception of street food has improved dramatically. Far from being cheap and dirty, the best outlets have become culinary destinations for locals and tourists alike. A number of street food chefs, like Jay Fai have won Michelin awards. Like craft beer breweries have become renowned for novelty, street food is at the cutting edge of experimentation.

As a westerner coming from a country with very little street food (Britain’s closest would be fish n chips or perhaps Balti in Birmingham?), street stalls never struck me as an important Sales or influencer channel. My thinking was narrow minded and misguided. 

Milo on a street stall, Thailand

Later when I worked in Nestle Malaysia did I see first hand the huge business Milo enjoyed because of its penetration with vendors. Soy and chill sauce, mayonnaise, cooking oils and stocks were also big. Brands like F&N’s 100 Plus and beers like Tiger have this channel in their DNA.

Naked ambition and street smarts make Laughing Cow the Big Cheese in Vietnam

Vietnam’s dairy market is worth over $5b and consumption is forecast to increase by 40% over the next five years. The cheese sub-segment is dominated by French multinational Groupe Bel with over 85% share.

Bel have played a long and patient game in Vietnam first entering the market 65 years ago. 

Bel’s hero product in Vietnam is Laughing Cow, “La Vache qui rit”. Undoubtedly one reason for its success has been local manufacturing (investments worth over $25m) producing formats with nutritional claims to meet local market needs and price points.

Laughing Cow Billboard in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Another equally important driver has been Bel’s strategy of targeting low to middle income consumers. To reach this segment, Bel has built an innovative Route to Market programme called ‘Sharing Cities’ that focuses on street vendors selling vegetables and local favourites like Banh Mi (a baguette sandwich).

Laughing Cow Banh Mi Vendor in Vietnam

Bel has a network of over 2000 street vendors in Ho Chi Minh alone and this channel accounts for over 30% of turnover. Bel’s research has shown that the repeat sales rate and loyalty to street vendors is high; vendors typically enjoy a personal relationship with their customers, entrenching Bel ever deeper into the community.

Laughing Cow’s Sharing Cities Programme, Vietnam

Bel’s CEO Antoine Fievet openly states, “We are aiming to turn the Vietnamese market into Bel’s cradle in Asia!”

Outside of Japan, Vietnam is Bel’s only other Asian manufacturing facility. Bel’s two Vietnamese factories have an annual capacity in excess of 25,000 tons and supply the SE Asia region.

Many foreign brands focus on the modern trade for growth, even in less developed markets. Bel’s success shows the Modern Trade isn’t the only way to make hay. I’ve worked with another major beverage business in Vietnam who like Bel have made the traditional trade the lynchpin of their success.

To paraphrase the French saying, perhaps we can now understand, Pourquoi La Vache Qui Rit rit?

Thanks to my colleague John Cathcart who inspired this blog post and provided photographs.

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Michelin star? Deliveroo eyes the menu of French haute cuisine

It’s not every day that a British founded food business makes waves in France.

However being the first mover in the world’s gourmet heartland has advantages. Deliveroo was quick to launch its digital platform in France, with a promise of 30 minute delivery.

Deliveroo, Paris

Today it has a turnover of over Euros 50million and is profitable. 

Deliveroo has since expanded to 8 other European countries, but states France is the engine room of its continental sales with ‘increasing growth in orders and customers.’

In fact it now has two business streams. The first a consumer one based on 6000 restaurants and 10,000 riders.

The second, an enterprise model, Deliveroo for business. This targets corporate business travellers, who from their hotel can order Paris’s finest restaurant fare on room service.

Success has not been a one way street. There have been disputes with its self-employed riders, who saw a drop in their delivery rates in 2017. And competition is fierce with Uber-Eats, Resto-In, Planet Sushi and Foodora who exited the market in 2018.

Foodora, Paris

Deliveroo’s financial model involves charging restaurants listing fees, plus an undisclosed ‘back margin’ on sales in addition to a cut from each customer.

Whether Michelin’s reviewers will be taking the Deliveroo option is not known…

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