If you’ve lived in Saigon a long time and have a penchant for wine, fresh fruit and vegetables, deli counters and imported food products, then you’ll know Annam Gourmet Market.
For expats and Vietnamese who’ve spent time overseas, the French-influenced Annam has long been a piece of life outside Vietnam. Its latest move is changing all this. It has now opened a new supermarket in Takashimaya, a department store occupying a portion of the Saigon Centre complex (Basement 2, Saigon Centre, 65 Le Loi, Q1, HCMC).
With Vietnamese clients now outnumbering foreigners, Annam is tapping into the appetites of wealthier locals who are seeking to expand their appreciation and understanding for new flavours and higher-quality products on a more regular basis.
“It’s been a long journey,” says Nguyen Phuong Ha, director of Annam. “We started with a very small shop 15 years ago on Ho Tung Mau.”
The transformation from an exclusive grocery store found in the foreigner-friendly areas of Saigon’s Thao Dien and Hanoi’s West Lake, to a huge top-end supermarket in a city-centre commercial complex has needed gradual steps and a lot of support.
“In the beginning, we had to go to Rungis (the largest wholesale food market in the world, near Paris) to select products and bring them back in containers,” Ha says. “But with guidance, and a loyal group of friends and supporters, our little store became what we are today.”
The effort has not gone unnoticed.
“Our Vietnamese clients are enthusiastic about our product mix,” says Annam store manager and product manager, Do Tien Dung. “They find items here which are unavailable anywhere else — amazing condiments and ingredients, which can satisfy their cooking desires.”
Cakes, Cans and Cosmetics
Annam is already well-known as a foodie’s paradise, but the new supermarket is so much more. Kitchen utensils, cosmetic products, a large frozen section, lots of fresh food counters and a patisserie now share the same floor area with a new Annam Café, which serves up fresh food and drinks.
“Our chef is creating new recipes every day,” Dung says. “Our café aims to deliver five-star hospitality and high-quality food for a reasonable price.”
Dung adds that since opening, 70% of the clientele in the Saigon Centre are Vietnamese.
This is aided by all communication and labelling in the store appearing in both English and Vietnamese, an evolution which points to changing market trends and the possible decline of the traditional wet market. Indeed, a strong focus has been placed on fresh products, in particular fruit, vegetables, fish and meat, much of which is imported exclusively by Annam. Everything, whether it is obtained locally or from overseas, is sourced with care.
“Wet markets are great, I hope they will stay; wet markets and supermarkets will hopefully always live side by side,” says Ha. “But modern gourmet stores like Annam are more convenient — the best of everything, all under one roof, in a clean and comfortable environment.”
With inconsistent food quality long an issue in Vietnam, one of Annam’s missions is to promote quality products, whether they come from overseas or are produced locally.
A Passion for Quality
In a wet market, your dong goes a long way. However, because a high proportion of Annam’s products are imported, clients may find their shopping budget more stretched than usual. This isn’t a problem, according to Dung.
“Gourmet customers who have a gourmet taste understand that our products are from a reliable source,” he says. “And for the expats who miss the taste of their own countries, we can bring them the sensation of being at home. That feeling is priceless.”
Compared to previous locations, the new Saigon Centre supermarket represents a major venture, but Ha says now is the right time to take the next step.
“Saigon Centre is an incredible success, it’s a great mall,” she says. “Everything is right about it; design, size, location and the variety of tenants.”
Ha thinks this all adds up to an opportunity for Annam to expand its clientele and reputation.
“Even five years ago, it would not have been possible,” she says. “Now it’s the perfect time. Bringing global specialities to share with our consumers is my passion.”
Photos by Bao Zoan