The emergence of new retail systems together with changing consumption habits are important stimuli for growth in the Vietnamese food retail sector. The country currently has around 750 supermarkets, 130 shopping centers and 9,000 traditional markets according to the Association of Vietnam Retailers (AVR). Total food sales are forecasted to increase at a compound annual average rate of 11.3 per cent over 2017-2021. World Bank statistics show that food industry imports more than doubled between 2008 and 2015 – and with GDP continuing to outstrip expectations every year, this growth is set to continue unfettered.
Foreign businesses have shown their interest in Vietnam food market by investing in trade centers and supermarkets as well as engaging in mergers and acquisitions in many of Vietnam’s big-name domestic companies, such as Kido Group, Dabaco, and Masan Nutri-Science.
Additionally, F&B industry conferences and exhibitions regularly attract hundreds of companies from Europe, Asia, and the Americas looking to introduce their products to the Vietnam market, and business advocates like the European Business Network in Vietnam (EVBN) and American Chamber of Commerce have organized trade promotion activities in sectors such as canned food, milk, beer, and wine. The launch of free trade agreements like EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) are certain to open the market further to more global F&B companies.
Food products in Vietnam are mainly regulated and managed by 3 different ministries: the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), and the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT).
The MOH has the prevailing general management power, and each agency holds responsibility for a list of food categories assigned to them.
- Law on Food Safety (LoFS) (2011) – umbrella law guiding food safety in Vietnam
- Law on the Quality of Products and Goods 05/2007/QH12 –stipulates that manufacturers and traders must take responsibility for the quality of the goods or products
- Law on Standards and Technical Specifications 68/2006/QH11
- Decree No. 38/2012/ND-CP –provides guidance to MARD, MOIT, and MOH on implementing provisions of the LoFS
- Decree 43/2017/ND-CP– food labeling regulation
Definition of "food" in the LoFS means "Foods are products which human beings eat and drink in their fresh, raw, processed or preserved forms. Foods do not include cosmetics, tobacco, and medicinal products ". There are also sub-definitions of different types of food, such as:
- “Packaged food” is completely packaged and labeled food, which may be eaten or processed further.
- "Nutritional food" is food supplemented with vitamins, mineral substances, serum antioxidant microminerals in order to prevent the community or a particular group in the community from the shortage of vitamins, substances, and microminerals.
- "Functional food" is food used to support the operation of body organs, creates comfort for the body, increases immunity and protects against pathogens. It consists of food supplements, health protective food and medically nutritious food.
Labels in Decree 43/2017/ND-CP are defined as "inscriptions, prints, drawings, images, or signs that are imprinted or embossed directly on or affixed, stuck, or pinned firmly to goods or their packaging to display necessary and principal information about such goods. As provided by Decree 43, domestically circulated foods, imported foods, and exported foods must bear labels, except for unpacked fresh and raw foodstuffs and processed foodstuffs that are sold directly to consumers. Labels may include both compulsory and non-compulsory information.
The compulsory contents mainly include:
In addition, under the LoFS, labeling of functional food, food additives, irradiated food, and genetically modified food must meet the following criteria:
- Functional food must contain the phrase "functional food" (“Thực phẩm bổ sung” in Vietnamese) and must not imply in any way that the food can replace medicine;
- Food additives must contain the phrase "food additive," and contain information on scope, dosage, and use;
- Irradiated food must contain the phrase "irradiated food";
- Genetically modified food must contain the phrase "genetically modified food".
The system of Vietnamese standards includes national standards (TCVN) and standards applied voluntarily by businesses and individuals (TCCS) which are based on international, regional, and foreign standards.
National Food safety standard system in Vietnam mainly includes:
In Vietnam, manufacturers or enterprises that produce or trade in goods, including foods, are required to submit announcements of specifications or food safety regulations conformity to Vietnam Food Administration (an agency of the MOH) or Department of Health (DOH).
Dossiers for announcement of specifications conformity:
Dossiers for specification conformity
Dossiers for announcement of food safety regulation conformity:
|Dossiers for specification conformity|
Imported (excluding functional and nutritional food)
Domestic (excluding functional and nutritional food)
Imported functional and nutritional food
Domestic functional and nutritional food
In addition, food must comply with one or more of the regulations on use of food additives, food packaging and labeling and food preservation etc., according to different categories.
For all food products, additives, and processing aids where there does not yet exist a national regulation/standard, these products can be approved to be sold and consumed in Vietnam if they comply with the standards mentioned in Codex Alimentarius or applied in their manufacturing country.
All imported food is subject to inspection as it is only allowed customs clearance once the inspection results show that the imported food meets relevant import requirements. The LoFS outlines three categories of food inspection: 1) common inspection; 2) tightened inspection; and 3) simplified inspection. MARD, MOH, and MOIT are in charge of developing specific guidelines on food safety inspection depending on the type.
When circulating food products in Vietnam, food traders/importers should pay attention to some compliance matters. The circulating products must strictly follow the above described announced product dossiers. Approval from the VFA is necessary for some minor changes, such as changes to the label, package size, or name or address of the manufacturer. For other changes, it may be necessary to obtain a new Certificate of Conformity Declaration (CCD) for the product. Many companies have been sanctioned for circulating food products which are different from their submitted dossiers.
Vietnam imposes a tax on almost every type of product that is imported into the country. The import tax rates range depending on the type of product. Recently, tax has become a hot issue due to a draft law on excise tax issued by the Ministry of Finance on 17 August 2017. In particular, this draft includes an increase in the tax on sugar from 5% to 6%, an increase in VAT from 10% to 12%, and the first mention of an excise tax on soft drinks of 10%. If and when this law comes into effect, it is estimated that it will raise the price of beverages by 12%.
- Vietnam Customs: https://www.customs.gov.vn/home.aspx?language=en-US
- Vietnam Food Administration: http://www.vfa.gov.vn/
- Ministry of Health (MOH): http://moh.gov.vn/sites/en-us/pages/home.aspx
- Ministry of Industry and Trade: http://www.moit.gov.vn/
Thanks to Tilleke & Gibbins for providing regulatory information in this article. Tilleke & Gibbins is a leading regional law firm in Southeast Asia. With 150 lawyers and consultants in Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, and Yangon, it represents top investors and high-growth companies that drive economic expansion in Asia and in the key areas of commercial transactions and M&A, dispute resolution and litigation, and intellectual property. For more info you may visit here: http://www.tilleke.com/