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Building a multinational brand: The Oishi story

01:00 AM January 26, 2015

“CASHING IN on the growing middle class,” this is the title of an article in China Daily – Asia Weekly of Dec. 12-18, 2014.

Nothing dramatic with the title. After all, Asia’s middle class is growing fast and has attained critical mass in many city markets from China and India to the Asean. There are probably more than 600 million belonging to the middle class in Asia’s population of over 3.5 billion people.

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The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in 2009 that the middle class included 525 million in Asia, or 28 percent of the global middle class. This expansion continues. The size of Asia’s middle class will reach 3.2 billion in 2030 (http://www.oecdobserver.org/).

The Asian middle class total consumption of all goods and services will rise from $4,952 billion in 2009 (23 percent of the global market) to $14,718 billion (43 percent) in 2020, and $32,596 billion (59 percent) in 2030 (Kharas, Brookings Institution, June 20, 2011).

Euromonitor estimated that the Asia Pacific market for snacks is about $46 billion, higher than Latin America at $30 billion. It lists the top four snack brands in Asia Pacific in 2014. Snacks, along with candies, fruits, vegetables, softdrink and beer, belong to fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) that sell quickly at relatively low cost.

Here are the top snack brands in Asia Pacific in 2014, as identified by Euromonitor:

– Want Want Brand of Want Want Holding, Taiwan (5.1 percent of market);

– Lay’s of Pepsico, USA (3.8 percent);

– Calbee of Calbee Foods, Japan (3.4 percent);

– Strong of Guangdong Strong, China (2.3 percent);

– Oishi, Liwayway Marketing, Philippines (2.2 percent).

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Based on market share, Oishi had retail snack sales of about $1 billion in 2013, about half that of leading brand, Want Want, and  two-thirds that of Lay’s of global giant Pepsico.

How is this possible given the modest beginnings of Liwayway? My family will not forget the Liwayway brand of “gawgaw,” the starch used for ironing clothes.

Liwayway runs 12 factories in China, three in the Philippines, two in Vietnam, and one each in Indonesia and Myanmar. I have visited its Shanghai plant several times in the 2000s along with participants of the UA&P top executives program.

Liwayway’s beginnings can be traced back to post-war Manila, Philippines. It started as a small business engaged in repacking corn starch. In 1966, the business was incorporated as Liwayway Marketing Corp. (LMC), distributing starch, coffee, confectioneries, and other products.

Carlos and Manuel Chan, second generation scions, took the company to the next level. In the 1970s, LMC under Manuel quietly entered the nascent snack food business and introduced its first product, Oishi Prawn Crackers.

In 1984, Carlos Chan explored the China market, which started to liberalize under Deng Xiaoping in 1978. In 1993, he opened the first company, now Liwayway Holdings Company Ltd. in Shanghai.

Today, it has 12 factories and 400 dealers in China. Oishi was recognized as a Shanghai Famous in 2001 and as a China Famous Brand in 2006.

Oishi entered Vietnam in 1997 and Myanmar in 1999. Factories in Thailand and Indonesia were developed in 2006 (http://www.oishi.com.
cn/en/about.htm). LMC’s overseas sales is estimated to be 90 percent of total sales. LMC is operating in six countries, making it truly a multinational.

I personally witnessed its branch prominence in convenience stores in Jakarta and Shanghai.

I can think of three other similar companies in the Philippines: Del Monte Pacific, which recently bought Del Monte Foods of the United States (Annual sales: $3.8B in 2013); Universal Robina Corp. ($1.9B); and Jollibee Foods ($2.4B system-wide). URC operates in seven countries and generates nearly 30 percent of total sales from overseas.  Meanwhile, Jollibee operates in eight countries and overseas sales comprise about 20 percent of total sales.

In the Asean, the big players are Wilmar ($45B) and Olam ($17B) of Singapore, Indofood ($5.6 billion) and Golden Agri ($6.6B) of Indonesia, Sime Darby Plantations ($4.6B), IOI ($4.2B), Felda Global ($3.8B) and KLK ($2.9B) of Malaysia.

In the FMCG group (full or part) tghe major players are: CP Food ($13.3B), Thai Beverage ($6B) and Thai Union Seafood of Thailand ($3.6B), Fraser and Neave ($3.6B) of Singapore,  San Miguel Purefoods ($2.4B), and Del Monte of the Philippines.

LMC and URC have distinguished themselves in FMCG. The battle lines are the supermarkets and convenience stores. Jollibee has to compete in the food service markets from Asia to US and Middle East.

How many more Filipino food multinationals will join the Asean elite circle remains a major strategic question. Changing the inward-looking mindset of many Filipino entrepreneurs to onhe that is outward looking may be a big challenge.

(The author is vice chair of the MAP agribusiness and countryside development committee, and executive director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of University of Asia & the Pacific. Feedback at <map@map.org.ph> and < rdyster@gmail.com>.  For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)

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