Myanmar is a relatively new player in the global market and its economy, democratic culture and technological advances have made enormous strides over the last few years. As the country’s economy has continually become more robust, it has attracted the attention of many international investors. One of the major changes that has invited new investment – and especially the food and beverage industry – is the lifting of US sanctions. At the same time the US has eased restrictions on trade shipments to ports and airports.
Steps towards new freedoms and effective trade
Myanmar has experienced many milestones in its long history and the recent change to a democratic government has allowed for private enterprise to prosper and experience more stable employment; local conglomerates are flourishing, and the rise of consumerism is quickly becoming an accepted part of the everyday culture.
Following independence after the second world war (1948), Burma found itself under the control of various military governments up until 2010. Consequently, the country has been constantly in a state of civil war. For a long time it was viewed as one of the least developed countries in South East Asia. Even though on paper the country is largely known as Myanmar (the military government changed the country’s name in 1989), there is still an element of confusion as to whether it should be referred to as Burma. For example, it is still referred to as Burma in the US. In general, the official name is Myanmar and it is colloquially referred to as Burma.
In 2008, Myanmar Cyclone Nargis devastated the country. Villages were totally wiped out and vast rice growing areas were destroyed. It is now considered the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar with over 130,000 people killed. The devastation was enhanced by the fact that the isolationist regime in power prevented help and medicine from the United Nations. It was in 2011 that Myanmar underwent many democratic reforms (interestingly put in place by the military government in power at the time). The first non-military president was elected (the National League of Democracy) in 2016.
A new way forward, a new prosperity
As in most countries across South East Asia, most of the working population earn income through agriculture which is at the heart of the food and beverage industry. Statisticians believe this proportion of the population is likely to increase in the future and that income levels will continue to rise. Statistics show that a quarter of the population earn more than $120 US dollars a month while consumers spend as much as 15% of their weekly income on the food and beverage sector.
The speedy and vast development within the food and beverage industry has led to new trends in Myanmar. For instance, native food brands are growing and there are more foreign food outlets in city areas. Currently, the large well-known brands are specific to South East Asia rather than large Western International brands. For instance, Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group operates a network of mini street-side chicken stalls, while South Korea’s Lotteria burger chain launched its first location in 2013, expanding its portfolio to more than 20 by mid-2016. Malaysia’s Marrybrown and South Korea’s BBQ Chicken also entered the market in 2013.Global internationals like KFC and Pizza Hut have started to trade in Myanmar but the brand is managed by local companies.
As a consequence of the new prosperity it is clear that more people are eating out. This in turn has a positive cyclical effect on the economy. Myanmar will be able to increase its aggregate consumption which will boost the growth of the country’s GDP and economic development. The fact that Myanmar has opened its doors to foreign competition should not discourage native businesses as local food providers are now able to export to neighbouring Asian countries.
New investments, new trends
The whole supply chain has seen revitalization over the last 5 years. As new brands clamour to win the rising consumer demand there has been a parallel increase in investment in supermarkets. But there are challenges as Myanmar renews its food production supply chain – its infrastructure networks still remain under-developed. The cold supply chain still needs work and investment. Also, of course, the issues with Covid-19 are restricting easy access to raw food products etc.
It is great to see Myanmar/Burma strengthening global trade and opening its doors to outside investment. The economy is wealthier and continues to grow. The country’s government believes in democratic human rights and so the people are more protected as local enterprise thrives. As an essential industry both to the national dependence and the economy, the food and beverage industry is a major industry within the market.
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