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Five dos and don’ts for entering Myanmar’s retail market

Many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are entering Myanmar, but without the right go-to-market strategy, it has proven hard to reach success. Why is it so difficult to enter this market so full of opportunities? Here are five dos and don’ts for brands to consider before entering Myanmar.

Myanmar is a truly unique country: from 1962 to 2010, the country was to a large extent closed off from the world. More than 52 million people are now eager to get their hands on new FMCG products flocking into the market. According to PwC, Myanmar’s total economic growth is expected to accelerate eight to nine percent year-on-year over the next five years. While the opportunity is enormous, the road to sales success in Myanmar is also full of obstacles.

Too often, I see a new entrant coming into the Myanmar market expecting their products to fly off the shelves. It is rather peculiar that companies expect Myanmar consumers to be fully aware of what their products are and that they meet their tastes, when up until recently there were hardly any foreign consumer products available in the country. 

Because of Myanmar’s history, the population is not accustomed to foreign brands. Even western household brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi needed to start almost from scratch, with the only brand awareness until recently coming through illegally imported goods.

Consequently, consumers in Myanmar do not yet have a strong preference for any specific brands and have proven that they are not easily swayed by new brands in the market. Therefore, brand owners need to be prepared to build the brand from zero and invest heavily in promotion and sampling activities.

It is a bit of a paradox; on one hand Myanmar is a newly opened market, but on the other hand, there are already a lot of local brands. This is particularly the case in categories such as confectionery and beverages.

Brand owners must not think that just because Myanmar is a new territory that their products will be instantly recognized and well-received by consumers here. Many multinational companies have made this mistake and realized that they had to compete with existing products.

At the same time for certain categories, businesses should consider if it is too early to introduce a new product to the market. For example, Myanmar consumers do not yet buy pet food in large quantities, although this may change in time. With the population’s income not growing substantially in recent times, staying in touch with what the population can realistically afford and what they want to spend their hard-earned money on is vital.

Either way, building your brand in Myanmar is a time-consuming process and companies need to have enough resources to build their brands over the course of several years.

Much like the rest of the developing ASEAN nations, Myanmar’s retail scene is centered around pricing: new entrants must ensure their prices can compete with cheap, local alternatives. And as around 85 percent of the retail market still comes from traditional trade, namely mom-and-pop stores and small grocery shops, there is limited shelf space. Brands need to restrain their product range and focus on introducing fewer SKUs than in other markets.

It is also crucial to recognize that Myanmar currently does not possess a clear middle-income group and with a young population – 55 percent of the people are younger than 30 years of age[1] – selling premium or exclusive products is a risky move. 

As the number of choices and product options grow swiftly with new products coming into the market, Myanmar is becoming a buyer’s market. Thus, to succeed in Myanmar’s retail space, brand owners need to take an “active position” in the distribution process. What this means is that they must be on the ground to understand their retail channels and educate consumers on the benefits and unique selling points of their products – either by themselves or with an experienced partner.

A good example of being proactive is Garuda Food, an Indonesian food and beverage producer. With the support of DKSH, it has successfully introduced one of their snacks into the Myanmar market by focusing on having the right product placement/display, branding and promotional activities and engaging consumers through product sampling initiatives.

Illegal trade and parallel imports of FMCG products are still major concerns in Myanmar, as up to 30 percent of some market segments, beer for instance, enters the country illegally.[2] As marketing strategies and merchandising plans can be disrupted by their presence, having a clear knowledge of these products does not just help to safeguard the brand’s interest in the country but also to ensure the relationships with distributors and retailers are not strained.

Among the measures a brand owner can undertake include having competitive pricing and promotions strategies in order to make parallel import products become less attractive to the customers/retailers.

Yes, Myanmar is indeed a very attractive market for brands to come into and try to get a slice of the pie. However, you must be fully prepared to work long and hard to win over consumers. What are your views on succeeding in Myanmar?  



About the author

Rajinder Grover is DKSH's Vice President Business Unit Consumer Goods, Myanmar and Head Country Management, Myanmar. Rajinder's experience in the FMCG sector spans over 30 years in 15 different markets around the world including in Asia.