Myanmar gets a taste of Singapore

Independent operators and established restaurant chains from Singapore are making inroads into Myanmar’s nascent dining scene.

YANGON: Myanmar is turning into a hot culinary destination with delights from the Lion City. In the last six months, six Singaporean restaurants have opened in Yangon.

Singaporean Ringo Wong was in the shipping industry for the last 20 years. But he and his wife decided to venture into new territory by opening a restaurant called Merlion Cuisine in Yangon in January, serving Singaporean dishes.

He has no experience in the F&B industry – except that he enjoys eating. But Mr Wong figured nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“I would say it’s worth it; it’s a long term investment,” he said. “It’s something which I’ve always loved to do about food and in the long run, this country should be able to develop much further and there’ll be a lot of people coming to Myanmar who want to eat good food.

“My son mentioned that if you have a passion for something, do it while you’re still young, don’t live it to regret it.”

Mr Wong spent half a year researching the market and visited Myanmar six times before committing to the restaurant.

But Mr Wong is not alone. Established Singaporean chains have decided to make inroads into Myanmar including Fish & Co, Pastamania and House of Singapura, which has teamed up with Singapore’s Les Amis Group.

At one new mall in Yangon, there are at least three Singaporean restaurants – either open or just about to open – on one level alone. Now this is not entirely surprising, given Singaporeans’ love affair with food.


But given this is Myanmar, where locals tend to prefer their own cuisine and with renowned international brand names fast entering the market, observers say the F&B sector is going to be increasingly competitive and that the industry is not as easy as some may think it is.

“If you’re rushing in to make quick money, Myanmar is not the market for that – especially in Yangon,” said Julian Gomez, chief operating officer of Apex Hospitality Group. “If you’re looking at long-term investment, long-term sustainability, long-term commitment to stay in this country, then it’s worthwhile.”

He added: “If they are targeting the top 10 or 20 per cent of the market with a very big disposable income, then it’s a business bound to fail.  So there are a lot of restaurants, F&B outlets opening and closing as fast.

“It’s simply because they have not done the proper research, and the pricing point is also another factor because the disposable income of the average man on the street is way too low for him to afford to eat at such places.”

But bar and dining establishment Harry’s, which is slated to open in Yangon in mid-March, believe they have done their sums right.

“For Harry’s, you need not pay more than US$15 per person for a nice meal and possibly a pint or two of beer – and it’s also somewhere nice to chill,” said Mr Gomez. “There is a need for brands like Harry’s to be here, as it gives a different choice for the growing executive segment.”

He added: “If a Singapore brand wants to come in, they must be able to offer something that’s not in the market. For example, if you want to introduce asam laksa, you have to take into consideration that a similar dish – mohinga – is served all over the country. So why would a local pay much more for something that’s similar to what they can find locally?

“If you really want to look at sustainability and a long-term presence in the market, then it must be something that’s targeted at the masses, where the average income is between US$100 and US$150 a month.”

As Myanmar consumers start to become increasingly discerning, Singaporean F&B establishments will have to ensure they are not just a novelty – but that they will be able to win the hearts of local people through their stomachs.


Source: Channel News Asia

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