Nestlé Vietnam CEO Binu Jacob.
Appointed as the new CEO of Nestlé Vietnam in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Binu Jacob tells Việt Nam News about how Nestlé navigates challenges during the crisis in the framework of the recent Vietnam Business Sustainable Development Forum (VCSF 2020).
How does a big business like Nestlé Vietnam help in the fight against COVID-19?
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Nestlé’s priority has been to protect its employees, ensuring they remain safe and healthy. We also ensure the continuity of supplying food and beverages to meet the demand and give a helping hand to our business partners and communities.
We applied additional safety measures in all factories, offices and distribution centres by providing nearly 22,000 face masks and 3,000 face shields to our employees, rewarding employees who work to ensure the continuity of nutritional product supplies to the communities in need.
We actively worked with the government, local authorities and partners to implement various programmes since mid-March. We donated VNĐ12 billion in products and cash to support the frontline workers who dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as 88,000 medical masks to the Ministry of Health and Centres for Disease Control in five provinces.
We realised that small businesses are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus crisis. With the pandemic outbreak and social distancing, small restaurants, street food vendors and school canteens had to temporarily close for a few months. Most of them suffered a drop in sales volume, high rental fees and shortage of labour. So, we have supported 22,000 small out-of-home business partners who have been hard-hit by COVID-19 with free Nestlé products worth VNĐ22 billion. Also, more than two million Nestlé MILO products are given for free to schoolchildren nationwide on the day they return to schools.
These are our on-going efforts to support the communities where we operate and is driven by our purpose “Unlocking the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come”. It may be a small drop in the ocean. But then every drop counts. We hope our support could be followed by other strong businesses.
What initiatives have you implemented to confront the challenges caused by COVID-19?
We continue to offer high quality and nutritious food and beverage products to Vietnamese consumers. We have closely monitored the market and consumers’ behaviours so that we can quickly respond to any changes.
We launched the #StayHealthyStayOptimistic campaign to encourage our consumers and the communities to adopt healthy habits and lifestyle. All our brands, such as MILO, NESCAFE and MAGGI implemented campaigns to connect with and lift up the spirit of thousands of consumers. For instance, if consumers are likely to stay at home more often, then NESCAFE is looking at encouraging consumers to be their own home barista and educating them on making coffee shop-style café at home.
We have maximised our online and digital presence, boosted our product presence on e-commerce channels and ensured product availability in other distribution channels. We have also reviewed our portfolio strategy and are working on prioritising new launches that make sense in the ‘new normal’.
What are the challenges for you for taking the role of CEO at Nestlé Vietnam in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I was in China during the peak of the coronavirus crisis and, to some extent, this prepared me reasonably well for taking on the new responsibility in the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in Việt Nam.
On the first day of my new position on April 1, it was also the day we started to work from home. Leading a new team in such a crisis from home was the first challenge. But thankfully, we have a very driven, resilient team and together we created Project STORM with 5+1 streams that worked on focused priorities and clear responsibilities and this structured process helped us weather the initial part of the crisis.
How has the pandemic affected Nestlé Vietnam so far this year?
The impact of the coronavirus has been everywhere around the world, and in the F&B industry. However, we still see consumers’ confidence in healthy products with high quality. In the pandemic, we can see that the health of senior citizens and children are prioritised, the good nutritious products for these groups are searched for extensively.
Although there have been some changes in demand, it is still early for us to quantify the overall financial impact of the outbreak. Ensuring the health and safety of our employees, families and consumers remains our priority. We are committed to ensuring continued production and delivery of our foods and beverages for Vietnamese consumers by continuing to work closely with our supply chain, distribution and retail partners.
How has Nestlé Vietnam prepared for a crisis like COVID-19?
Having lived and worked in China during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis there and then in India for a few weeks before coming to Viet Nam, I am quite amazed by how the Vietnamese Government managed the COVID-19 crisis with limited resources but unlimited determination.
Việt Nam has so far shown strength and stability in weathering the COVID-19 storm and offered a successful example to other countries and territories. Nevertheless, COVID-19 continues to spread around the world and not a single country or business is offered absolute safeguard to the pandemic.
People are at the heart of our business. We continue to work tirelessly to keep our employees, business partners and the communities where we operate healthy and safe during the coronavirus outbreak.
We are committed to ensuring continued production and delivery of our foods and beverages for Vietnamese consumers. To achieve this, we continue to work closely with our supply chain, distribution and retail partners.
We keep a strong belief in the capability and management of the Vietnamese Government to effectively contain any possible outbreak.
Binu Jacob receives the Certificate of Merit from Minister of Finance Đinh Tiến Dũng for Nestle Vietnam for being among 30 biggest local taxpayers in October. — Photo courtesy of the firm.
What can businesses like Nestlé do to help the local economy recover?
To survive in a ‘new normal’ of uncertainty, large or small businesses should prioritise cash flow over profit, focus on flexibility and adaptability over efficiency, embrace new ways of doing things such as pursuing new opportunities including digitalisation.
They also need to inspire their people to go with the change and create a sense of positivity in such a situation.
Nestlé Vietnam has recently taken the position of Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD) co-chair. What is your plan to lead the council and promote sustainable development in Vietnam?
VCCI – VBCSD is among the most reputable organisations in Viet Nam. It has demonstrated its active role in encouraging the business community to participate and contribute to sustainable development of the country. It has been a great pleasure and honour for me and Nestlé Vietnam to have a chance to collaborate with VBCSD members, to share and learn our best practices together and to broaden our contribution to such a meaningful journey.
Sustainability is our global commitment and top priority. We focus our work on three interconnected impact areas of tackling climate change, shaping a waste-free future and promoting gender balance.
All our factories in Việt Nam achieved Zero Waste to Landfills since 2017. The Beans to Brick model is one of our success stories where we turn coffee grounds into biomass and unburnt bricks for commercial and residential buildings.
We are the first ever company to adopt paper straws for our Ready-To-Drink products in Viet Nam. The paper straws of MILO Breakfast and Nesvita will help reduce more than 10 tonnes of plastic per year.
We have partnered with mGreen, a social enterprise/mobile app developer, to implement a waste collection and segregation project at schools and residential buildings in HCM City in the last two years.
In Việt Nam, we have made significant progress in recent years with more than 50 per cent of senior managerial positions now held by women. We have partnered with Vietnam Women’s Union to provide nutritional knowledge and to improve incomes for rural women. Through the NESCAFE Plan, we have empowered rural women to become farmer leaders who play an active role in promoting sustainable coffee cultivation practices.
Nestlé Vietnam has continuously and consistently delivered our commitments to contribute to sustainable and inclusive development for Việt Nam. We are proud to be in Top 10 Sustainable Business and Top 100 biggest corporate taxpayers in Việt Nam for many years in a row. This August, we were honoured to receive the Certificate of Merit from the Prime Minister for recognition of achievements and contributions to socio-economic development and social work-charity.
How can sustainable businesses contribute to local development?
The foundation for a sustainable business is corporate governance. Enterprises need to establish appropriate structures to ensure their transparency and stability when the market is volatile and turbulent. People are the most important resources of a firm, other factors follow. Firms need to ensure smooth communication, act faster and faster than ever before in a crisis. A crisis like COVID-19 is the time for big firms to give, not a time for them to just make profit. We consider sustainable development the core of all performance. It is an investment in responsible growth. — VNS