American firms poised to 'invade' Vietnam

BANGKOK -- Coke, Pepsi, Kodak and General Electric are among the U.S. companies poised to make a big splash in the Vietnamese market as soon as the U.S. government announces the lifting of its trade embargo against Hanoi.

Top executives from several U.S. firms were already in Vietnam Thursday in anticipation of U.S. President Bill Clinton's decision to open the vast new market to U.S. companies.


'If the embargo is lifted tomorrow we can go in right away,' Kodak's Indochina sales manager, Anu Boonyathai, said in an interview. 'A lot of American companies are making plans to go in.'

Like Mobile Oil, General Electric and the perennial cola rivals, Kodak executives are already 'pre-positioned' in Vietnam to begin business as soon as it is legally possible.

Anu said Kodak has been planning its penetration into Vietnam for more than a year, stockpiling photographic supplies in the free port of Singapore and preparing marketing strategies similar to successful campaigns in Thailand.

He said the company's two proposed distribution centers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City could be up and running as soon as March.

'We'll use the same strategy in Vietnam as we have in Thailand,' he said. 'We'll use TV, billboards and contests with prizes. The Japanese (photographic companies) have had a head start, but it's not too late for Kodak.'


Anu said he expects Kodak to do 100-200 million baht ($4-8 million) in business in Vietnam during the first year after the trade embargo is lifted.

'Vietnam is a big market,' he said. 'In the past we had very good name recognition there. People remember us.'

Pepsi-Cola International, meanwhile, has begun a local advertising campaign featuring the beauty queen Miss Saigon.

Both Coke and Pepsi plan to begin bottling and sales of their products under joint venture agreements within days, perhaps hours, of the lifting of the embargo.

According to industry sources, Coca-Cola currently has the edge in the brand name recognition battle with Pepsi because cans of black market Coke have been smuggled from Singapore to Vietnam for years.

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