The Sunday Times – Home Grown Food Brands Going Places
Boutique brands are venturing into the region and beyond by working with franchisees or opening stores and eateries on their own.
A grocery store offering grass-fed meat and products to suit every alternative diet known to man is a natural fit for any woke city in Australia or the United States. But Ms Wendy Foo, 52, who started Ryan’s Grocery with her husband Sebastian in 2015, is opening two stores in Vietnam before the end of the year — in Hanoi and HO Chi Minh City. How she came to be doing this shows the potential her business has in a country where the economy is booming. The two partners she is working with started out as customers. They were frequent visitors to Singapore and would call ahead to order meats to take home. “They were trying to convince us to franchise the store more than two years ago,” said MS Foo, who used to work in media sales. In 2017, the couple started gearing up to open the stores. They hired a consultant to teach them how to run a franchise programme and it took about a year to get the right business documents and to put together a team. She and her husband opened the store so that they could have food their son, Ryan, 12, could eat. He is allergic to dairy products, gluten, nuts, soy, eggs and yeast. They have another son who is six. Word Of mouth drew customers to the Binjai Park store, crammed full of snacks, ingredients and sauces.
The meats are a highlight organic, hormone-free and from small Australian farms the couple visit first. Her business partners think the concept will fly in Vietnam, and not just because of the expatriate population there. She said: “Expats come and go. But the locals are well-travelled and they are looking for quality meats. Upmarket supermarkets are opening, offering more imported products. The population is young and incomes are rising.” The teams she and her partners have assembled are made up of overseas-educated, English-speaking people who know and love Australian meat. Aside from retail, there are other possibilities too. One hotel in Vietnam sent its chef to Singapore to buy a large amount Of meat for a special event. The store showcased its meat offerings in two food- product events in the country and hotels were especially keen, so there is a business-to-business opportunity too. For a start, the meat will be sent to Vietnam already cut and ready to sell. But the partners have also opened processing factories and, eventually, the plan is to have the butchering done on site. Ms Foo plans to have Australian butchers train the teams to butcher and handle meats properly. One Of the partners has even bought an organic vegetable farm.
She hopes to open two more stores in the country by the end of next year. Potential partners from Cambodia have also come calling, as have those in Hong Kong. Her business in Singapore is expanding too. A Ryan’s Grocery, with a cafe, will open in the basement of Great World City next January. And to think, her business started because, like her partners, she and her husband would travel out of Singapore to buy good quality meat for Ryan. “We didn’t think about opening overseas,” she said. “It’s a steep learning curve for us.”