INTERVIEW WITH MRS. ANDREA GONZÁLEZ – EIBENS VIETNAMFebruary 20, 2023
1. Kindly tell us something about your work profile/business including yourself.
EIBENS is a market intelligence and communication agency with a clear specialisation: the access and development of European agri-food products in Asian markets. We have offices in Madrid, Beijing, and Ho Chi Minh City. We work with sector associations and trade promotion agencies, providing services that could be organised in two major areas: market intelligence and strategy; and promotion and communication.
As the Director of the office in Vietnam, I lead a team that takes care of all our operations in the region. Within this role, I work with a range of clients to provide high-value-added services that support the successful entry of F&B products into Vietnam and other markets in the region.
I have been interested in discovering new places since I first moved abroad at 15, and focusing my career on business internationalization was the way to achieve this. Through my years at EIBENS I’ve been able to specialize in Asian markets, China and Vietnam specifically, two very active environments that allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.
2. When did you arrive in Vietnam and what made you / your company decided to stay here?
We have been operating in China for over a decade and after the pandemic we felt it was the perfect time to expand to other Asian countries. Vietnam was the natural choice for our Southeast Asian operations, due to its strong growth, easy access to other countries in the region, and a burgeoning internal market filled with opportunities. Additionally, our expansion plans align well with those of our clients who want to diversify their markets beyond China and view Vietnam as the next logical step. This is why we have been fortunate enough to start working in Vietnam with some of our existing clients from the moment we opened our office.
I took on the role of leading our office and team in Vietnam in mid-2022, after months of preparation and finalizing our company incorporation. The abundance of opportunities in this emerging market, combined with our company’s strong commitment to it, made it an exciting opportunity.
3. Culture shock related to work environment in Spain and Vietnam?
Coming from China, I find the work culture to be fairly similar between both countries. They are filled with people who are driven by growth, development, and new opportunities.
In Vietnam the business landscape is constantly evolving, with new technologies and trends emerging. This dynamic environment creates a wealth of opportunities for companies and individuals to innovate and grow and this growth is what our clients want to capitalise on.
The Vietnamese people I have worked with have been highly motivated, hardworking and dedicated to achieving their goals. The country is also known for the hospitality and friendliness of its people, making the transition to working in Vietnam an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Overall, my experience has been that Vietnam is a great place to do business and work at, with a culture that is similar in many ways to China and a lot of potential for growth and development.
4. As far as your sector stands today, what services EIBENS offers to their clients?
EIBENS specialises in providing market intelligence and comprehensive communication solutions to the European agri-food sector in Asia.
What we do for market intelligence is simple: we provide insightful information from the market to our clients to they can make good, informed decisions. It can take many forms: market research, news and legislation updates, focus groups, surveys, and store checks, among other methods. This has been our core service since our inception, but we have since expanded to focus on designing and implementing strategic communication and promotional campaigns for our clients.
Coming from a market intelligence background, we have a deep understanding of the needs of the European agri-food industry and know how to position and make products available to the target audience. Our main competitive advantage is precisely our specialization: we only work with agri-food clients business that want to sell more in Asia. We possess in-depth knowledge of the sector and know how to turn a communication campaign into a competitive advantage that achieves the main goals of our clients’ promotional campaigns, such as increasing sales, higher average export price, a higher market share, or a combination of these.
We design campaigns that make sense for the available resources and strategic objectives of our clients. We have been working with importers, distributors, retailers, e-commerce platforms, and foodservice chains across Asia for over a decade. Our proposed activities and partnerships are interconnected, so each Euro invested in promotion is optimised.
5. What do you think are the biggest challenges for this sector in the future?
There are many challenges that the agri-food industry faces when exporting to Asia, such as lack of market access and trade barriers for certain products, disruptions in the supply chain, lack of knowledge about their products in the target markets, difficulty to conduct business with places that are far geographically but also culturally; among others.
Speaking more about their challenges to promote and sell their products, we find that our clients often struggle to keep up with third markets, due to small teams managing worldwide operations with shifting priorities. This can lead to a lack of time and resources to properly analyse opportunities in the medium and long term, resulting in wasted efforts and increased difficulties.
6. What type of promotional and communication campaigns do you work on?
We specialise in designing and implementing promotional campaigns for agri-food associations that are supported by public funding, both at the EU level (e.g. REA) and national level (e.g. ICEX). These programmes aim to increase the competitiveness of the industry in target markets in the long term.
Every year, the European Research Executive Agency (REA) co-funds campaigns to promote European agricultural products worldwide and raise awareness of EU farm products in new markets, in accordance with Regulation (EU) No 1144/2014. Proposals for campaigns are prepared annually between January and April, and the campaign typically runs for 3 years, with the EU financing up to 80% of the total promotional budget. This is an excellent initiative that EU agri-food associations should consider in order to gain a competitive edge in third markets. Our role is to support these associations in the process and also implement these campaigns in Asia.
7. What is your advice to companies interested in your services?
In line with what we have previously discussed, a lack of resources and time to properly analyse and execute the most cost-effective strategy can be a limiting factor for European agri-food exporters in relatively unknown markets. Understanding what’s happening in the country and the region for the product they want to sell should be the first step in what we believe will soon become a very profitable market. Then, in most cases, products that aren’t competing solely on price will need to be positioned accordingly.
European exporters often overlook the fact that because their product is well-known and appreciated in other parts of the world, this doesn’t automatically translate to success in new Asian markets. They need to develop strategies to position their products based on their resources and objectives. In our opinion, it makes sense for most EU agri-food exporters to position their products in association with their country brand, to leverage resources together, and because in most cases, they will be initially known as “XXX product from YYY country” if they are new to Vietnam or other Asian countries. Specific brands come second in terms of importance, with some notable exceptions.
8. Please tell us a little about future plans of your company in Vietnam.
We have just started, so we expect to grow our staff and portfolio of projects in the coming years. We see Vietnam not only as a location for executing projects in the country, but also as a hub for Southeast Asia. The team based in Vietnam will be responsible for coordinating and managing collaborations with local partners in other markets within the region.
Many thanks to Mrs. Andrea González for sharing your experience with us.