Markets and food outlets rush to stock up and protect prices

July 29, 2021 | 15:02
Many supermarket chains and stores have prepared plans to stock up goods and bump up staff numbers, as well as commit to stabilising prices to ensure that they can meet the demand in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as social distancing measures bite into everyday life.
Vinmart and Vinmart+ have been increasing their stockpiles to supply locals for many months, Photo Le Toan
Vinmart and Vinmart+ have been increasing their stockpiles to supply locals for many months. Photo: Le Toan

It has been a week since Hanoi issued public notice No.15/CD-CTUBND to tighten measures to help prevent the pandemic. At Nguyen Manh Cuong’s food store in Ba Dinh district, there is no longer a busy scene of customers coming in and out – instead, he only accepts orders via the fanpage, Zalo, or telephone.

Cuong said that in addition to promoting sales on online channels to limit direct contact with customers, he also signed an agreement with the market’s manager to not increase prices.

Cuong’s store is no exception because more than 2,300 points of sale, tens of thousands of grocery stores, and hundreds of supermarkets and markets in the capital are also required to commit to stabilising prices, as opposed to speculation and hoarding goods for profit.

The request was made just a few hours after Hanoi issued a new notice on the afternoon of July 18. Many people rushed to buy and hoard food, emptying stalls selling necessities such as rice, noodles, and fresh food, especially agricultural products including fruit and vegetables.

A representative of AEON Vietnam’s supermarket chain said that the number of customers coming to their Long Bien and Ha Dong supermarkets from about 4pm on July 18 was double compared to usual.

Meanwhile, Ngoc Minh, who lives in Cau Giay district, lamented that she had been queuing for more than an hour at AEON Hadong supermarket but still could not get to the checkout to pay.

“There are too many shoppers. Everyone is hoarding food, especially green vegetables because they are worried that they won’t be able to go out in the coming days,” said Minh.

Food shortage obsession

Worries about food shortages have become somewhat of an obsession for some living in the city centres of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as anti-pandemic measures were tightened, especially during the first week that the latter required people to stay at home as per Directive No.16/CT-TTg from July 9.

According to data from Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, 92 supermarkets and 230 traditional markets are now providing food for more than nine million people living in the city. However, most of the traditional markets were forced to suspend operations due to the rapid increase in the number of infections.

Up to now, only 32 traditional markets have been allowed to operate, with about 2,000 tonnes of food available per day, only around one-third of the previous amount.

The supply of essentials when mainly relying on supermarkets, department stores, and food chain stores have caused overload and consequently temporary food shortages, especially vegetables.

Many consumers in Ho Chi Minh City complained about not being able to buy food despite waiting in line at the supermarket for many hours. Buying online is also not easy because the system often reports an error or, if the order is successful, 4-5 days may have to pass before customers see their shopping arrive.

Representatives of Vinmart and Vinmart+ supermarkets said the number of people shopping directly at its 18 supermarkets and more than 400 stores in Ho Chi Minh City increased by about 50 per cent, while online orders increased by 4.5 times on weekdays. Compared to before the latest outbreak, the VinMart and VinMart+ chain had increased the supply of food and fresh goods by 2-3 times on normal days. Particularly at the end of the week, the average supply increased by 4-5 times.

As for Saigon Co.op, a representative said that buying food in large quantities has caused a shortage of some items, and supermarkets have not been able to replenish items in good time. The temporary scarcity has also created an opening for some businesses to raise prices for profit, making many items two or three times as expensive as usual.

Hoang Duc Phuong, who lives in Tan Binh district of Ho Chi Minh City, said that his family’s meals have not contained any vegetables for many days because the counters at supermarkets and department stores nearby are constantly sold out.

Phuong shared, “Even though I am willing to pay a higher price, there is nothing left to buy. I had to ask a friend in Hanoi to order through a food store with a branch in Ho Chi Minh City that she knows.”

Learning from the past

The paradox of a lack of agricultural products in an agricultural hub like Vietnam is unfortunately a reality that many people in Ho Chi Minh City have experienced – and it is not because of supply, but transportation.

Ho Dieu Phuong, owner of a vegetable farm in Dalat, said that although vegetables are plentiful, it is not easy to get goods into Ho Chi Minh City right now.

“In the past, transporting agricultural products from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City only took about 7-8 hours. But now the process is interrupted because the drivers have to take time to test for COVID-19. They also have to go through many rounds of checks at medical checkpoints, causing the journey to be pushed up to 12-15 hours. Vegetables arriving are sometimes withered, and small traders then refuse to accept them,” said Phuong.

To avoid some difficulties in transportation, Ho Chi Minh City recently decided to use high-speed trains to move essential goods from Mekong Delta provinces to the city centre.

Five high-speed train routes will collect goods at domestic ports in the likes of Long An, Tien Giang, and Ben Tre, before docking at Bach Dang Wharf in Ho Chi Minh City for disinfection. The items are then transferred to cargo trucks.

Many traditional markets are set to reopen and commercial, service, and logistics businesses participating in the sale of food with hundreds of mobile selling points will also contribute to relieving stress in the supply stage, helping the prices of goods in the city to remain stable.

The representative of the VinMart and VinMart+ chain in Hanoi said that the shortage of goods only occurs at some points of sale on the first day after social distancing strategies are implemented because some people panic. However, the output of goods is now very abundant, and consumers can buy with peace of mind.

Supermarkets have developed plans to ensure adequate supply of essential goods at a fair price. The stockpiles increased by 3-5 times, enough to supply the needs of Hanoians for three months. These supermarkets have also fully prepared vehicles and human resources to be ready to transport goods to points of sale overnight.

According to Nguyen Thi Kim Dung, director of Co.opmart in Hadong, the supermarket has increased its supply by 50 per cent so it will always have enough goods for consumers. The Hadong supermarket also conducts online sales and delivery in the city of Hanoi to limit gatherings and reduce travel.

Gaining experience from Ho Chi Minh City, the retailer also suggested solutions to encourage suburban districts to switch to growing green vegetables, meat, and fish, and speed up vaccinations for the country’s retailers to ensure a smooth supply of food in any situation.

Pham Huyen Trang - Head of Fresh Food Merchandise, VinCommerce

Since the pandemic emerged, the VinMart and VinMart+ system has strengthened the preparation of scenarios to ensure the supply chain copes with all situations.

In Hanoi, we have worked with major suppliers, tripling our inventory to ensure adequate stock on the shelves at all points of sale. To ensure the supply for localities implementing social distancing, VinMart and VinMart+ work with local pandemic prevention and control steering committees to help trucks carrying essential goods and food move quickly.

In Ho Chi Minh City, as well as the southern provinces, we have recommended that localities develop testing plans for drivers near the city’s checkpoints to facilitate quick goods circulation. In addition, we also recommend that frontline sales staff in the retail chain receive vaccines as soon as possible.

VinMart and VinMart+ flexibly built convenient and quick delivery options for customers nationwide. Orders could also be made through mobile applications such as VinID, Now, and Lazada. When ordering online on the website, customers can pay online and just receive the goods, avoiding the potential spread of disease when using cash.

We also developed many business scenarios to cope with the evolving situation of the pandemic. We have organised promotional weeks to stimulate shopping demand, promoted the consumption of domestic agricultural products, and supported farmers amid interrupted exports.

Bui Thi Minh Yen - Managing director, ORFARM Saigon

Since Ho Chi Minh City applied the new restrictions, our ORFARM store stays online in touch with our clients to provide maximum requirements for regular guests.

In the first week of social distancing, we faced some challenges in meeting the higher demands on vegetables.

Despite the higher fees for logistics and city shipping, we have been able to keep food prices stable. One of the main reasons we still maintain stable prices and goods for consumers in Ho Chi Minh City is that ORFARM is both producer and distributor. In Hanoi, we have not yet faced any difficulties in providing customers’ online.

We have set up an online system to receive bookings and offered shipping services since we opened in 2013.

We have our own farm for breeding pigs and chicken, as well as growing fruit and vegetables, which apply Japanese technology in Hoa Binh province, alongside close partners in Dalat. So, we can control the supply chain well to meet the demands, even when the pandemic remains serious.

Nguyen Vu Diem Thi - Marketing director, Saigon Co.op

Our various supermarkets currently have plenty of sources of goods. Fresh meat, eggs, and vegetables had been imported for nearly 300 supermarkets, and food in Ho Chi Minh City increased by more than 30 per cent compared to average days.

The system is also stocking large quantities of rice, noodles, dry and frozen food, and chilled meat, with prices stabilised to ensure supply to the market over the next 3-6 months.

Regarding the distribution plan, besides selling at supermarkets, Saigon Co.op is speeding up the execution of orders on apps and websites, and is also coordinating with local organisations to issue coupons.

The number of customers ordering online has increased by 4-5 times. To meet this huge volume, Saigon Co.op has mobilised thousands of employees of all departments to process orders for Co.opmart, Co.opXtra, and Co.op. Food supermarkets.

The issuance of timed coupons for shoppers is proving to be effective, reducing gatherings at the same time. When receiving the coupons, customers only need to arrive on time. In some off-peak hours, with few customers, supermarkets will flexibly deal with visitors who do not have such coupons.

Bui Trung Chinh - General manager, MD Foodline, AEON Vietnam

As of July 7, the number of customers at AEON Supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City increased by 200-300 per cent. The following week, the number of visitors was still high.

AEON Vietnam ensures a continuous supply of essential goods at stable prices to meet customers’ needs. We commit to trying our best and accompanying the community and the government to overcome this difficult period.

In Ho Chi Minh City, AEON Vietnam has increased the stock of essential goods at supermarkets by 200-600 per cent. From July 15, we have increased the stock of fruits and vegetables. AEON Tan Phu, for example, imports about 20 tonnes of vegetables daily.

In Hanoi, AEON Vietnam has increased the stock of food products for the three AEON supermarkets in Long Bien, Ha Dong, and MaxValu Riverside – specifically perishables of fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish.

Merchandisers at AEON Vietnam have been working with suppliers for a backup plan to meet the needs of the people and, at the same time, to increase the storage area and the volume of frozen goods.

To limit gathering in crowded places and minimise the spread of disease, AEON Vietnam offers a variety of online shopping ways to accommodate everyone.

By Hoang Oanh

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