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Sapporo hopeful new strategy will pay dividends

Update: November, 20/2015 - 09:35

Mr. Mikio Masawaki.

Japanese brewer Sapporo, who came to Viet Nam more than five years ago, targets two-digit sales growth this year. Last month the company announced a new marketing strategy including a new brand message and lower prices. Thu Ngan speaks with Mr. Mikio Masawaki, the company's new general director, about the new strategy and his overview of the Vietnamese high-end beer market.

Though there is brutal competition in the beer market with newcomers coming in all the time, the company targets a two-digit growth in revenue this year. How?

Five years ago when we first came to the Vietnamese market, very few people were aware of us. We were the "newbie" and started to develop our foundation from there.

In the beginning our products were sold at around 250 Japanese restaurants in HCM City. Japanese customers at the restaurants came with Vietnamese friends and introduced our products. When Vietnamese knew about our brand, we expanded to other outlets. That is the way we started our business in your country.

Currently there are 4,000 places selling our products, mostly in central of HCM City. The figure is not really big, but it is a solid foundation to achieve strong growth in Viet Nam.

Thus, we have targeted growth of two digits. In the coming years the goal will be double-digit growth.

The target was announced at the same time as our new marketing strategy: in late October. We hope the new strategy will help us achieve growth in sales in the last few months of this year.

You mentioned that at the end of October your company announced a new marketing strategy. Can you tell our readers about the strategy and why now?

Before coming to Viet Nam, we had carefully studied Vietnamese habits and tastes.

During the past five years, we kept researching to have more insight about customers' habits. Vietnamese customers are more demanding. The market trend also shifts upwards to higher, better and safer products. Based on our studies, we concluded 2015 is the suitable time to innovate.

Thus, we decided to innovate the flavour, launch new packaging for 330ml bottles and cans as well as adjust the pricing scheme.

The flavour is adjusted a little to match Vietnamese tastes and give customers a new experience. Quality standards, however, remain the same.

In terms of pricing scheme, we will adjust our price within the range of other premium beer brands so that there is less price pressure on consumers.

This renewal may be new in Viet Nam, but it is not so in Japan. Companies keep changing every year and every season to meet consumer demand.

This trend, I think, will occur increasingly in Viet Nam, and we will innovate more in future to serve Vietnamese customers' needs.

We had customers sample the new beer and all said the taste is more delicious [than the old one], and so we think we will not face much risk with this change.

Through this new business strategy, we hope that our old consumers will recognise that we are making efforts to bring them better products, and encourage more customers to try and use our new products.

Beer clubs will be Sapporo's new target.

How will you expand your reach and engage more with Vietnamese customers?

To reach new customers, our company plans to widen its distribution system. Currently our beer is sold through 4,000 sales points. Sapporo Viet Nam targets increasing that figure to 7,000 early next year.

In September we entered Da Nang. The expansion will take us to Nha Trang and Da Lat besides the three major cities of HCM, Ha Noi and Da Nang.

According to our own evaluation, we now hold a 10 per cent of market share at restaurants and hotels in central areas of HCM City. Our objective is to increase that to 20 per cent next year.

Beer clubs will be our new target. Currently our product is second in terms of market share at beer clubs. From beer clubs we will move to other segments so that we can take on strong rivals.

Sapporo International Inc. has bought out the 29 per cent stake Vinataba holds in Sapporo Viet Nam. What was the rationale for the purchase?

Sapporo Viet Nam is now in the stage of development. We officially started our business in 2012. It is now still time for us to establish our foundation, and so we have invested much in technology and facilities as well as marketing, branding activities.

So it is reasonable that the company has not broken even. To achieve profits soon, we think we need to be more proactive in making decisions about speeding up investment.

Vinataba contributed greatly to the company in the early years of operations. The Government, however, requires it to pull out of non-core investments.

The acquisition will surely boost the company's readiness and flexibility in all aspects such as strategic planning, growth orientation and targeted audience outreach in addition to enriching customer experience.

How have exports by your brewery in Viet Nam fared?

We have exported to 11 nations and territories including Singapore, Australia, and South Korea.

What are your thoughts on the high-end beer market that you target? What next for it?

Firstly, A report from AC Nielsen in 2015 revealed Vietnamese living standards have improved.

Secondly, the beer market in Viet Nam is divided into three segments: high, medium and low ends. As for market development, medium segment is growing rapidly. However, we cannot overlook the premium segment's growth and potential.

This trend has occurred in other countries where consumers' demand is more diverse and they ask for higher quality products. Viet Nam will soon fall in line with this trend and our company is preparing for this.

How do you see the future of Sapporo in Viet Nam?

The Vietnamese beer market has a long history. In terms of size, Viet Nam is the third biggest market in Asia after China and Japan.

The major market share is now held by some local established companies like Sabeco or Habeco. So we don't expect a large market share at the moment.

Our strategy is to focus on the right segment and the right audience. From that we will develop our brand and further expand business.

In the next 10 years we target contributing 10 per cent to the Sapporo Group's revenues. To achieve the goal, we plan to continuously innovate our product for Vietnamese customers.

In addition to beer, Sapporo in Japan is strong in other sectors such as food, beverages and restaurants. We will consider developing our business in these sectors.

The company is considering bringing beers with different flavours, beers that are good for health, non-alcoholic beer, and craft beer to the Vietnamese market. This will help us not only diversify but also increase our profits. — VNS

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