The trend to upgrade or replace traditional markets with supermarkets in Vietnam's urban areas was not necessarily a good one for shoppers or traders.
According to statistic from Ministry of Industry and Trade's Domestic Market Department, there are more than 8,500 traditional markets, 600 supermarkets and about 102 shopping centres nationwide.
Traditional markets and vendors meet 95 percent of domestic demand for food and other necessities. Supermarkets and shopping centres cater to other customers, often foreigners.
Official surveys and public polls prove that traditional markets can survive the toughest competition with other retailers.
A researcher from the ministry's Trade Research Institute, Hoang Xuan Tho, said that traditional markets had the major advantage of being able to offer a big range of fresh foods at the cheapest prices - and support local farmers as well. "These markets play an important role in supplying necessities for poor customers," he said.
Meanwhile, vice director of Hanoi's Industry and Trade Department, Nguyen Van Dong, said that when markets were turned into supermarkets or shopping centres, the cost for premises increased, posing difficulty for small traders - who often had to push up the prices of their goods.
Moreover, trends proved that customers preferred buy food in traditional or street markets than in shopping centres, leading to a waste in investment.
In Hanoi alone, there are 411 traditional markets, including three wholesale ones. On average, each local district and town has 14 markets and each market serves about 15,200 residents.
Some major markets have been replaced with shopping centres such as Cua Nam, O Cho Dua and Hang Da. However, these new centres are reported to have failed to lure customers.
Stephanie Geertman from HealthBridge, a Canadian non-profit organisation, said that the trends in Viet Nam and developing countries were to move away from traditional markets towards supermarkets.
However, she said, the shift could change the access and availability of food supply and impact the economy, environment, health and culture. For example, she said supermarkets were an easy entrance into a foreign market for large international food companies.
Supermarkets, especially when they first introduced, focused on processed, dry, and packaged foods because they enabled economies of scale and had long shelf lives.
"This means more food is imported, creating fewer employment opportunities for local farmers who produce local fruits and vegetables, decreasing opportunities for the urban poor to make an income," she said.
Moreover, fresh markets were important assets playing a key role in the identity of neighbourhoods, she said, adding that closing them could cause a loss in the sense of community and culture. She noted that traditional markets made many Asian cities, including Hanoi, unique.
Researcher Tho said that instead of replacing traditional markets, urban authorities should develop them and make sure they were in convenient locations for shopping. He backed a ministry plan that the Government should even offer incentives for people to build them.
The Hanoi People's Committee has called on businesses to invest in commercial business centres and traditional markets.
The committee's list of approved projects includes the Commerce and Service Complex project, covering an area of 14,000 square metres in Ha Dong District. Capital for the project is estimated at VND199.9 billion (nearly USD10 million). Construction is scheduled to take place between 2013 and 2015.
Another fish market and food commerce in Yen Nghia precinct, Ha Dong District, will cost about VND346 billion (USD15 million).
Another project, the Le Chi Market with investment capital of VND45 billion (USD2.2 million) will be built on 18,368 square metres in Le Chi village, Gia Lam District. The proposed construction period will be between 2012-2014.
The Dong Tam Market project in Phu Dong village, Ba Vi District will be built on an area of 20,270 square metres. It is estimated to cost VND73.3 billion (USD 3.6 million) and will be built during the 2012-2014 period.
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