Fast-changing Myanmar joins consumer age

From toothpaste to tinned fruit, cosmetics to Coca-Cola, global firms have Myanmar firmly in their sights as the nation's 60 million people find themselves thrust onto the frontline of consumerism.

Since the rollback of sanctions on the brutal former junta, big brands have swept into Myanmar determined to have a share of an anticipated boom and transform the nation's impoverished people into brand-savvy global consumers.

It is a mutual attraction, with many locals -- rich and poor -- hankering after the cache and quality of foreign goods, or simply tired of the limited range of local products on sale during the junta-era, which ended two years ago.

"I'm facing a problem that No.7 foundation powder -- the best powder I've ever used -- is running out and I can't find it anywhere in Yangon," lamented 24-year-old Win Lai Phyu at one of the city's lacklustre shopping malls.

Instead the office worker said she relies on friends to deliver the make-up from Bangkok.

But in her frustration lies opportunity for brands looking to connect with Myanmar's people -- whose disposable incomes are predicted to surge as investment pours in and the reformist government shakes-up the economy.

"There's a euphoria on both sides about the opening up," said Freddy Oh, of local firm Foodland Manufacturing, which recently started selling MacCoffee -- a Singapore-based brand -- on a licence.

"The younger set are craving interaction with the outside world. That gives brands a chance to build awareness and market share," said Oh, adding that MacCoffee's 3-in-1 sachets have entered an instant coffee market worth $200 million a year.

Neon-lit billboards now jockey for position above Yangon's bedraggled streets and more are likely to follow as the tastes of Myanmar's people diversify.

Soft drinks giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi have already brought their rivalry to Myanmar, officially returning to the nation in-step with the end of sanctions.

Mobile phone firms are eyeing entry once the government frees-up licences to the Asian country where an estimated 96 percent of the population do not have handsets.

Analysts say other consumer electronics, such as tablet computers and flat screen televisions, will soon be in hot demand among those who can afford them, although many are already imported from China.

But the fortunes of cheap, everyday "convenience" items are equally instructive about a market on the move.

Del Monte is introducing its canned pineapples, pasta sauces and catsup (ketchup). Toiletries company Lamoiyan is hunting for a partner to distribute "Hapee" toothpaste, while a fellow Filipino firm is offering skin whitening products.

"The demand for all kinds of consumer goods is there," said David Webb, outgoing director of UK Trade & Investment -- Britain's trade arm -- in Yangon.

"Myanmar's manufacturing industry has pretty much been wiped out by sanctions. Foreign companies have money and access to expertise, markets and knowledge of supply chains... it gives them an advantage."

There is profit to be made.

"Wealth doesn't spread to everyone but there is a lot of money... certainly in Yangon," said Damien Duhamel, of Singapore-based marketing consultancy Solidiance.

Some firms are seeking to reap the benefits of early entry to an untouched market, such as making a quick impression on consumers in a bid to win longer term market share.

But rushing in is laden with risk, according to Duhamel who says many companies who ploughed first into China and Vietnam had their fingers burnt by local conditions.

"A lot of cowboys will come to town hoping for a quick buck and 'pioneer advantage'," Duhamel said, adding regional firms from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand are likely to lead a risk-taking vanguard.

"But that fades quickly and the MNCs (multinational corporations) will enter in a second or third wave once consumers have been educated. They won't take part in a feeding frenzy, but will look to steadily build market share."

The risks are myriad: Myanmar's banks are in their infancy, infrastructure is threadbare and the population -- while English-speaking and willing -- lacks skills, such as basic computer literacy, to staff some operations.

Meanwhile, foreign investors in many cases need a local partner in a country where detailed market information is non-existent and the legal system opaque.

Despite the obstacles, Oh is adamant that Myanmar presents a unique opportunity in a crowded and competitive world -- provided companies have a long-term view.

"Nobody has a crystal ball but people always need to eat, drink and brush their teeth," he said.


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Pratt & Fallon's Hilarious Karaoke
    Pratt & Fallon's Hilarious Karaoke

    Taylor Swift's "Starbucks Lovers" ain't got nothin' on Jimmy Fallon and Chris Pratt! …

  • Bruce Jenner's Mom Reacts
    Bruce Jenner's Mom Reacts

    Bruce Jenner's mom, Esther Jenner, told Access Hollywood on Friday that she wouldn't be watching her son's highly anticipated sitdown with Diane Sawyer. "I think that '20/20' and Diane Sawyer did a fabulous job," Esther told Access' Stephanie Bauer exclusively on Saturday. …

  • Nearly 17 million watch Jenner interview
    Nearly 17 million watch Jenner interview

    NEW YORK (AP) — Former Olympian Bruce Jenner reached an audience of just under 17 million people for his declaration in an ABC News interview that he identifies as a woman. …

  • Kris Humphries: 'Glad I Got Out'
    Kris Humphries: 'Glad I Got Out'

    Many celebrities took to social media to cheer Bruce Jenner on following his transgender revelation, but Kris Humphries' reaction seemed less than supportive. …

  • Bruce Jenner comes out as transgender, says 'I am a woman'
    Bruce Jenner comes out as transgender, says 'I am a woman'

    NEW YORK (AP) — In the 1970s, Bruce Jenner was a symbol of American masculinity as an Olympic champion. Nearly 40 years later, in an extraordinary television interview, Jenner told the world that he identifies as a woman and has felt gender confusion since he was a little boy growing up in the New York suburbs. …

  • Judge: Attending Pink concert didn't harm New Jersey girl
    Judge: Attending Pink concert didn't harm New Jersey girl

    TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — A mom's decision to take her 11-year-old daughter to a Pink concert has a judge saying, "So what?" …

  • 'Outlander': Laura Donnelly On Jenny
    'Outlander': Laura Donnelly On Jenny

    Now that Claire has made her choice to stay in 1743, it's time to head to Lallybroch in "Outlander," and that means finally getting to know Jenny Fraser, played by actress Laura Donnelly. Jenny was seen briefly in flashback moments, which aired earlier in Season 1, Part 1, of the Starz series, but in Saturday's episode, named after the Frasers' ancestral home, viewers will really get to know Jamie's (Sam Heughan) older sister on screen. …

  • See Jared Leto As The Joker!
    See Jared Leto As The Joker!

    Introducing Jared Leto as The Joker! …

  • Beyonce's unretouched L'Oreal photos only latest in her long history of Photoshop controvers …

    Beyonce's unretouched L'Oreal photos only latest in her long history of Photoshop controvers …

    Celebrity News - Fri, Feb 20, 2015 1:47 AM PHT
    Beyonce's unretouched L'Oreal photos only latest in her long history of Photoshop controvers …

    Beyonce’s #Flawless image is embroiled in controversy once again. On Wednesday, a web site called The Beyonce World leaked 224 allegedly raw photos of the musician. The images showed Bey in full makeup for the 2013 L’Oreal ad campaign — but with the kinds of “imperfections” we all have — beauty marks, bumps, creases. In the wake of Cindy Crawford’s unretouched photos, the images have been praised by critics of a beauty industry that sets impossibly high standards, standards that Queen Bey …

  • Taylor Swift reveals ‘Style’ video

    Taylor Swift reveals ‘Style’ video

    omg - Sat, Feb 14, 2015 12:14 AM PHT
    Taylor Swift reveals ‘Style’ video

    The 25-year-old released the video for her third cut from platinum selling album 1989. …

  • My mother-in-law’s personal encounter with the pope

    My mother-in-law’s personal encounter with the pope

    Write Away - Wed, Jan 28, 2015 2:29 PM PHT
    My mother-in-law’s personal encounter with the pope

    For my mother-in-law Mrs. Elsa Yrastorza Yuzon, flying and soaring in the skies is part of her normal routine. But it reached new heights when Pope Francis boarded Shepherd One. …