Good morning Vietnam!

Author: Marco Negro

The Vietnam of today, a captivating icon of authentic Asia, echoes aspects of Italy in the 1960s—a time of spreading economic prosperity. Let’s closely examine the presence of Italian products in this part of Southeast Asia.

Just 47 years ago, after a twenty-year war claiming three million lives, the modern state of Vietnam emerged, its borders forming an ‘S’ shape. The roots of that conflict, now acknowledged as a proxy war during the Cold War, traced back to the 19th-century interference of European colonists in indigenous Asian empires. Visiting Vietnam today, however, is an appreciation of the saying ‘the past is past’. Post reunification, the youthful nation embarked on a journey with a survivor population eager to build families and invest in personal growth. The result is the world’s twentieth-largest economy, with a per capita GDP growing at around 10% annually (excluding 2020). As we read this article, Vietnam is approaching a population of 100 million, with the remarkable average age of 32.5 years. The last decade witnessed a true demographic and economic renaissance.

Street Market in Hanoi in Vietnam

In this context, we analyze the consumption trends of the Vietnamese. In a country where national progress propels job opportunities for a broad segment, with the working population expected to reach 60 million by 2025, the ‘Generation Z’ constitutes 25% of the workforce15 million potential consumers in their thirties. In their first decade of economic independence from family, these customers are receptive to social media messages, open to new experiences, yet increasingly discerning. A ‘promised land’ for advertisers of international consumer brands.

Italian fine dining in Vietnam

How is the cuisine of the Bel Paese perceived in Vietnam? Loris Barbiero, residing in Ho Chi Minh City, shares insights as the owner of a family-run Italian truffle and gourmet products business. With three decades of experience in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, Vietnam, and China, Loris notes the growing appreciation for Italian enogastronomic products in Vietnam. He highlights the increasing demand and the cross-cultural influences that bring Italian ingredients into the recipes of international chefs.

Truffles and their cutter on a table

Loris, known for his truffle business, emphasizes the rising interest in high-end gastronomy, extending beyond truffles to include D.O.P. Italian cheeses, snail, caviar, bottarga, cuttlefish ink, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, culatello, and lardo di Colonnata. The demand for these gourmet products is on the rise in the high-end restaurant sector, driven by the requests of discerning chefs who seek excellence in their culinary creations. Notable establishments, such as the Opera restaurant at the Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel, showcase the use of premium Italian ingredients, creating a ripple effect that leads to their availability in top gourmet shops.

Expatriates residing in major Vietnamese cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City significantly contribute to these consumption patterns. Many of them, originally executives in multinational companies that established a presence in Vietnam three decades ago, have now built families in Asia. This expat community, including entrepreneurs and consultants who relocated in the last decade, exhibits high spending capacity and a deep understanding of refined European gastronomy. Their purchases extend beyond luxurious specialties to include European cheeses and cold cuts, preserved foods, European biscuits and panettone, Italian coffee and pasta, as well as imported wines.

An important occasion for consumption is Tết, the lunar New Year. We talked to Riccardo Bianco Levrin, a Milanese resident in Hanoi for 28 years. He is a fashion designer who brings together the wonders of Italian and Vietnamese culture in his collections. This passion has led him to know Vietnamese culture well, so he can explain to us that during Tết, Vietnamese people exchange visits to extend New Year’s greetings to relatives, friends and acquaintances. Hosting guests with rare delicacies and opening a bottle of Italian or French wine is a way for hosts to express their hospitality. Similar to Europe, it is customary in Vietnam to purchase a fine bottle of wine before attending a dinner at a friend’s house.

An insight into Italian wine

In Vietnam, per capita wine consumption is relatively low, primarily limited to specific consumer categories. A significant portion of wine sales in Hanoi and Saigon wine shops is attributed to gifting. Italian wine ranks fourth in the list of exporting countries, following Chile, France, and Australia. The well-deserved second place of the French cousins can be attributed to the Sopexa, the French agri-food promotion agency, which has trained hundreds of Vietnamese sommeliers, familiarizing them with the French appellation system. The first and third preferences for Chilean and Australian wines among Vietnamese consumers are explained by the favorable tax regime in their economic relations with Vietnam. These wines arrive at a considerably lower average price, a notable factor in a growing market.

Goi Cuon, sauce and shrimps on a table

Despite the tropical climate, 65% of wine purchases by Vietnamese consumers are red wines. Spirits, especially the popular rice fermented distillate, are consumed for intoxication, seeking relaxation, and, perhaps, to lower social inhibitions. Wine consumption, on the other hand, is associated with hospitality or more formal occasions. Vietnamese people perceive the rich culture in a glass of wine.

We spoke with Lincoln Vu, a Vietnamese sommelier visiting Veneto, Piedmont, and Abruzzo in May. Lincoln, who studied at Swiss hotel management institutes, has a passion for the extraordinary variety of Italian wines made from native grape varieties. He acknowledges that the Vietnamese market is not fully ready to comprehend them. Lincoln shares that the passion for Amarone among the Vietnamese is still relevant. The most sought-after Italian wines by Vietnamese importers are those with high alcohol content and a smooth, enveloping softness, typically IGT wines produced in Veneto and Puglia through forced drying of grapes.

Lincoln adds that the demand for premium wines is growing, particularly among women, who often start with slightly sparkling and sweet wines as their first introduction to wine. Interest in organically and sustainably cultivated wines is modest for now, mainly among sommeliers in luxury hotel chains. Lincoln reflects on beginners or new consumers, a growing category with limited knowledge of grape varieties and regions. Their initial bottle purchases serve the purpose of gifting, spending appropriately, and making the best impression on the recipient. Hence, the demand for large, heavy bottles that appear luxurious, perhaps with intricately designed labels. Unfortunately, this segment is often dominated by mediocre-quality products from generalist bottling companies. For beginners, wine is a design experience.

Landscape of Hanoi, the Tran Quoc pagoda

The key to the success of Italian wine and gastronomy in this Southeast Asian country lies once again in disseminating the cultural values behind each Bel Paese specialty. The Vietnamese Generation Z has the will and means to access these values. We will eagerly follow the evolution of consumption in this “S-shaped” Asian country.

30th April 2023,

Marco Negro

Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.
Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.

Share is cool