Heng Hong Tan
Heng Hong is Mintel's APAC Food and Drink analyst based in Kuala Lumpur. He comes with over a decade's worth of experience identifying emerging food and drink trends.

Southeast Asia’s instant noodle market is one of mixed performance. More mature markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are growing at slow rates, while lesser developed markets like Cambodia and Myanmar are rising strongly from a low base, according to Mintel estimates.

In Thailand, the instant noodle market has been described as a ‘mature market’ by Thai President Foods, Thailand’s top instant noodle maker. The company announced that it will focus on its overseas expansion plans as well as develop premium products to sustain growth in the instant noodle market going forward.

All that said, aside from export and premiumisation, Southeast Asian instant noodle companies can also harness the potential of seasonal claims to create more eating occasions during festive seasons.

Bringing convenience to traditional festive noodle dishes

Festive dishes do not necessarily need to be cooked from scratch. In fact, time-pressed consumers in Asia turn to meal kits and prepared meals to help them prepare for festive meals.

For example, Chinese communities in Southeast Asia traditionally consume longevity noodles during Chinese New Year and sometimes during birthdays. The long noodles symbolise a wish for a long life. Meanwhile, during Christmas, Filipinos typically consume Pancit Malabon—a type of stir-fried noodle dish.

This need for convenience among busy Asians opens up opportunities for instant noodle brands to provide convenient versions of these noodle dishes, that are traditionally eaten as part of festivities in some cultures within Southeast Asia.

Festive gifting opportunities

The gift-giving culture during major traditional holidays, such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Songkran, is well established in most cultures in Southeast Asia. This is seen with the wave of festive packs and hampers that are introduced to market in the lead up to the festive periods.

In Southeast Asia, food and drinks with a seasonal claim accounted for 4% of launches in the past year, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD). In fact, a third of these seasonal food and drink launches were chocolate confectionery, while none were instant noodles.

In Vietnam, for example, South Korean instant noodle maker Samyang launched its instant noodles in a festive gift pack for 2019 Tết (Vietnamese New Year). Meanwhile in Taiwan, Uni-President collaborated with the National Palace Museum to introduce a premium beef noodle with a special imperial palace design for the 2019 Chinese New Year. Only 8,888 units of the Manhan Yupin or ‘meals intended for the emperors’ were produced and sold at selected online and offline stores.

Samyang‘s gift pack for 2019 Tết; each contains seven instant noodles

Manhan Yupin premium instant noodles from Taiwan’s Uni-President

There is an opportunity for brands to position instant noodles as luxurious seasonal gifts. Premium products can include imported noodles packaged in exquisite packaging and made with high-quality ingredients, such as large meat pieces in retort packaging.