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More and more Saigonese prefer to eat lunch at convenience stores

By Minh Tam   September 15, 2022 | 10:00 pm PT
Nguyen Thanh Hiep went to the convenience store near his workplace for lunch and returned to office to take a quick nap.

He had never considered convenience stores as a good place to eat lunch until he started working for a graphic design company in the Phu My Hung urban area in HCMC’s District 7.

He says: "There are only a few street food vendors in this area. If I want to eat good and affordable food, I must ride my motorcycle for a kilometer to an eatery."

On the other hand, it only takes a couple of minutes to reach the convenience store below his office, and what’s more, he can even pre-order his lunch on the store's app 30 minutes before his break to save time.

Customers inside a convenience store on Pham Ngoc Thach Street, HCMC’s District 1, on September 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Customers at a convenience store on Pham Ngoc Thach Street, HCMC’s District 1, September 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Since the beginning of this year, as the Covid-19 outbreak subsided and normal life resumed, the rate of people who share the same routines as Hiep has increased rapidly.

Before the pandemic, most office workers in the central districts of HCMC would eat lunch at restaurants before heading to refreshment and coffee shops to catch up with coworkers. Some others would bring food from home and eat right at their desk.

Hiep adds: "Convenience stores have many affordable food options for me to choose from. Not only that, it is cool and clean and having lunch here helps me save time."

In fact, the hours between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. are the busiest for many convenience stores all over the city, with around 300 people visiting each during lunch time, and 50-100 patrons eating in.

Customers take lunch break at the outdoor seating area of a convenience store in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Customers take lunch break at the outdoor seating area of a convenience store in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

A salesman at a store on District 1's Dinh Tien Hoang Street says the lunchtime crowd has multiplied by two or three times since the start of this year.

"Last year our store imported roughly VND2 million ($84) worth of merchandise every day, but this number has risen to VND8-10 million in recent months."

A majority of customers at a store on Mac Dinh Chi Street in District 1 are office workers and students who are there for lunch between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., according to the store manager, and most are there for 30-60 minutes.

"It is extremely busy during weekdays. The normal staff of three has been increased to five due to the large number of customers coming in."

Staff at convenience stores are usually ready ahead of time to serve customers quickly during lunch.

A saleswoman at a store on Pham Ngoc Thach Street says: "We make sure that food shelves are fully stocked and ingredients for making food in the store are in place to cope with the large number of people coming during lunch. There are days when we cannot have lunch until 2 p.m."

The Ministry of Industry and Trade reports that the number of convenience store chains has risen sharply in the past few years. At the end of last year there were over 3,000 stores in the country, and the number is expected to grow rapidly.

Eating at convenience stores is a popular trend that is expected to grow.

Young people are increasingly hanging out at these stores, primarily by the air-conditioning but also eating there. Many also visit them for the Wifi.

In some Asian countries, where the trend first emerged, it gained traction as "lunch inflation," a method of cost cutting adopted by office workers.

According to Reuters, South Korean convenience store chain GS25 reported a more than 30 percent increase in sales of instant meals in January-May from a year earlier.

It has responded to the high demand for office lunch delivery by introducing a new meal subscription service for office workers, including discounts and door delivery.

Peers including CU and 7-Eleven have seen similar jumps in demand, while Emart24 saw a 50 percent rise in lunch-box sales in areas with a large number of offices, according to Reuters.

Instead of eating lunch at the canteen in the scorching heat, Huynh Quang Bao Phuc, 15, a student at Nguyen Khuyen High School, chose a convenience store near the school for his lunch break. He says he does not eat much at the canteen because there are more options to choose from at the convenience store.

"I enjoy taking a lunch break at the convenience store because it is air-conditioned and has Wifi. I can also take a nap on a chair before heading back to the classroom."

Pham Loi Ngoc Vy (R) frequently spends lunch breaks at convenience stores. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Pham Loi Ngoc Vy (R) frequently spends lunch breaks at convenience stores. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Pham Loi Ngoc Vy, a student at the HCMC Open University, says she and her friends choose to grab lunch at a nearby convenience store rather than buy from street vendors like they used to due to fear of being robbed and getting wet during the rainy season.

"It is as convenient as its name suggests. Buying food here makes me feel more confident about food safety. However, there are no electrical outlets at convenience stores, and so I cannot sit for too long."

Le Anh Tu, a lecturer at Van Lang University's faculty of public relations and communication, explained this lifestyle shift by saying that some workplaces do not have the facilities or equipment needed for office workers to take a lunch break, and others do not let them eat at their desk, making convenience stores an ideal place for a quick lunch.

Besides, many office workers are still having trouble making ends meet after Covid-19, and cost is a major factor, he adds.

 
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