With restaurants shunned amid Covid-19, ready-to-cook meals become popular

By Vien Thong, Dat Nguyen   October 2, 2020 | 05:00 pm PT
With restaurants shunned amid Covid-19, ready-to-cook meals become popular
A person prepares to cook a ready-to-cook meal in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Vien Thong.
Ready-to-cook meals are becoming increasingly popular as young people limit eating out due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the next week or so Mai Huy will not have to stop by a supermarket on the way home from work or worry about what he will eat the next day. His meals will arrive at his doorstep from a new ready-to-cook service he is trying out.

For around VND500,000 ($21.57), the 29-year old Ho Chi Minh City office worker gets a three-day meal plan for four people comprising 2.5 kilograms of vegetables and two kilograms of meat and semi-cooked. He can cook it in 20 minutes based on instructions from the seller.

"My work schedule does not allow me time to buy ingredients and cook from scratch," he says. "Since I eat alone, this ready-to-cook plan provides enough food for me for a week."

Market observers said ready-to-cook meals, which have been around for a couple of years, are gaining in popularity this year, especially among busy white-collar workers in major cities, since cooking at home is increasing because of the pandemic.

Retail chains like Big C and Saigon Co.op have such meals on their shelves, packed in plastic bags and with enough for three or four people.

There are also others offering the service in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, some of them entering the market since the second quarter of this year.

HCMC’s Japanese-style restaurant chain Morico introduced its ready-to-cook meals in April when the country was going through a three-week social distancing period because of the pandemic.

"We saw that people were cooking more at home, and anticipated that the habit will continue after the pandemic is gone," a spokesperson said.

The company is now offering dinner combos for singles, such as beef curry, spaghetti and ramen, that require not more than 15 minutes of cooking.

Most of its customers are people who studied or worked abroad and familiar with this type of meal.

"Our revenues from ready-to-cook and ready-to-heat meals were equivalent to that of a small outlet in the first two months," the spokesperson said.

Hotel and tour booking company Ivivu entered the market in May with ready-to-cook dinners it advertised as can be cooked within 10 minutes. The company now delivers in HCMC’s main districts.

CEO Nguyen Trung Cong said customers want ingredients to be fresh and clean and food just enough for one meal so that there are no leftovers.

"The Vietnam ready-to-cook market has a lot of potential. The pandemic has sparked a rise in demand and made both consumers and investors take the market more seriously."

He revealed that 70 percent of his company’s customers are regular, and it targets 10,000 meals a day.

Experts agreed that the ready-to-cook market, while still small, has the potential to grow in Vietnam thanks to the expanding middle class and its rising income.

Nguyen Thi Nhu Ngoc, marketing manager at market research firm Kantar, said as incomes rise, people become busier and are ready to pay more for convenience.

This is why convenient foods, ready-to-consume and ready-to-eat foods are among the products to have seen double-digit annual growth in recent years, she said.

This type of meal is suitable for busy young people and families with four members or less, and with delivery services burgeoning simultaneously, there has been growing investment in this segment, she said.

With a recent Kantar survey finding that 70 percent of urban consumers expect more products to make their lives easier, ready-to-cook meals have the potential to take off in major cities, she said.

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