Theme Trip to North-East Asia: Strong Contrast in Retail Developments between the Various Countries

A delegation of Dutch retailers visited North-East Asia in March 2009. Christiaan Rikkers of Jos de Vries The Retail Company also joined the party. Working visits to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea supply fresh insight in the economic developments of this densely populated Asian region. Rikkers reports: ‘The indelible impression that stays with our travel group is the impression of contrasts... both between the countries that we visited and between the different retail sectors.
Countries such as South Korea and Taiwan are keen to open their doors to the west, for instance, whereas Japan remains a very close society as yet.’

Non-Food versus Food
According to Christiaan Rikkers the non-food sector shows a rapid advance of western brands and chains in all of the countries that he visited. With the exception of South Korea, the food sector continues to be governed by traditional suppliers, however, who often force western companies to clear off with their tail between their legs... Not so long ago, French Carrefour decided to totally part with its interests in Taiwan and leave. The market share of other western suppliers has come to a halt in Japan.
The strong individual gastronomic cultures of the different Asian countries with assortments that are often impenetrable for western companies, are no doubt the cause of this stagnation. In addition, the Asian consumer traditionally still buys a lot at local markets.

Food Safety and Protectionism in Japan and Taiwan
‘This image was confirmed during our visit to the Japanese Foodex fair. Although quite a few Western suppliers were represented, the Asian stands seemed to attract most of the visitors. When you couple this to the often heavy import restriction measures for western companies, the image of Japan as a very close market is complete.
I was also strongly surprised by the fact that important themes such as food safety and health seem to have an absurd effect on daily life in the countries that we visited. The consequences of Sars and bird flu have obviously left deep marks.’

Another defining factor in the countries that we visited is the explosive growth of their strong neighbour, China. China is expected to chase Japan from its second position in the list of economic world powers. Just like us in the West, Japan has not found a clear answer to this situation as yet.

Open Doors in South Korea
‘During our visit to South Korea it soon became clear that whereas Japan and Taiwan are protecting their own culture and society, South Korea seems to be opening its doors as wide as possible to invite western influences. The western influence is therefore very noticeable. Western companies do not only define the street scene, but they are also increasingly defining Korea’s gastronomic culture, with a MacDonald’s at every street corner. The market share of western retail chains, whether or not in the form of partnerships, is therefore a lot stronger here. There is for example a Carrefour branch right next to the Seoul football stadium.

The visit to North-East Asia was organised by Mutual Interest within the context of Dutch trade missions to important retail markets. Visiting retail chains, companies and economic departments of Dutch embassies (that offer a lot of background information) gives insight in the developments of important and often new retail markets. Visits to upcoming retail markets such as India and China are scheduled for 2010. Participants from all retail sectors are welcome to register. Info: Anthony Snoecks

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