Friday, 22 May 2009

A Small Kingdom with Big Modern Shops

The French Connection.

sunny 37 °C
Manama has no supermarkets. Why? Only hypermarkets are big enough for Bahrain. Australia is the other end of the spectrum (and the world, hemisphere), where we're served by smaller number of supermarket chains. It was an eye-opener for an Aussie bumpkin like me to shop in this big space. They sell everything from grocery to computers and TV, etc. It's sort of a cross between Woolworth and Harvey Norman (or Wal-Mart for Yanks).

Australia is a resource-rich but brand-poor country (and Bahrain is a oil-rich, brand-rich kingdom).
Take fast food restaurants, Macky has about 45-55% market penetration (this is from my own 30 years observation with no official figures to back it up. But I don't think I'm too far off). Together with KFC, they corner about 75% of the fast food market (or 3 out of the 4 corners of Aussie market). Leaving a little corners for only a couple of franchises like Hungry Jacks and Red Rooster to pick up the crumbs left behind by the two dominant players. All in all, there are only a total of a handful of fast food restaurant brands.

This virtual duopoly in fast food franchise brands is quite typical in other Aussie markets. Take supermarket, Woolworth overshadows Coles, and together they take over 85% or so of the supermarket market. One more example, the duopoly also takes a strangle-hold of the department stores segment with David Jones and Myer play the whole field. In fact, they're duopoly in the purist sense. There's no level playing field to speak of. Telco industry is another duopoly. But I think you get the drift.

One might argue that because of the small Australian population, giant franchises have little interests in coming to Australia. Bahrain has similar variety of brands as Singapore and HK. HK has less than 1/3, Singapore has less than 1/7 and Bahrain has less than 1/12 of the Aussie population. So small population can't explain the large number of foreign brands in these tiny city-states/countries. Perhaps it was an Aussie government concerted effort in the past to local protectionism (at the expense of consumers). Maybe something else, or a combination of several historical reasons. In any case, the results of such few brands is that even a British company (her mother) like Marks & Spencer has no shops in Australia. In fact, many UK brands that you would find in Asia, and elsewhere, won't be found in Australia. Why should anyone care? Brand variety = consumer choice. And Aussie has much fewer choices when it compares to tiny city-states like HK, Singapore, and Bahrain.

I smiled when Australia Tourism Board pitched Australia as a shopping paradise. Don't get me wrong, Australia shines in the area of eco-tourism. But shopping destination Australia ain't.
All the hypermarkets in Bahrain are French brands: Géant, Carrefour, Lulu, and one other (its name escapes me). Géant locates sort of opposite from Fraser Suites, and we shopped there a number of times. There're lots of French restaurants and especially French café. Paul's Café is one of our fave bakery restaurant in Seef Mall. Although we like their coffee and burgers, most of all, I like their complimentary bread basket with their own olive paté. No, I'm not a cheapskate. I'm happy to pay for it. It's just their complimentary breads are simply divine, and I'm sucker for olives. c'est magnifique!
The French would be quite at home here. Perhaps, which is why Olivier jumped at the chance to come to Bahrain - a kinda woop woop place with lots of French businesses, and he is paid in BD and tax free. The traffic is going both ways, just differerent traffic. While the French comes here to make money (certainly not to travel), the Bahraini go to France to spend money (since they're obviously big-time Francophiles).

Singapore also has Carrefour. Singapore doesn't have Géant, but it has Giant, which is also a hypermarket founded by a Singaporean family. In fact, Giant is our substitute for Géant in Singapore, and has surprisingly similar product lines. I shop at Giant regularly because of their lower prices and the large range of merchandise. Most of all, I go there to buy their baguettes, and bakery.

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