International brands abandon Myanmar’s devastated economy 

Already hammered by the pandemic, international food and fashion franchises are fleeing Myanmar months after the military sent the country and the economy into turmoil with its illegal power grab

US pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s, Chinese hot pot chain Little Sheep, and Taiwanese bubble tea franchise KOI Thé are among the biggest names to have announced their branches will be closing permanently. 

Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic, owned by the tycoon Serge Pun, was the local partner for the parent companies of Auntie Anne’s and Little Sheep. Thiri Yee Mon, a spokesperson for Yoma, declined to comment on the brands’ departures.

Auntie Anne’s entered the country in 2019 and had outlets in the Junction Square, Myanmar Plaza and Junction City shopping malls in Yangon. 

“Unfortunately, the changing operating environment has led to our decision of closing down the Auntie Anne’s outlets,” the company said in a statement last week.

KOI Thé, which has branches in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, could not be reached for comment. 

Also among those leaving the country is the Thailand-based fashion accessory franchise Jelly Bunny. The company blamed the plummeting Myanmar kyat and higher shipping fees for its departure. 

The Norwegian telecoms company Telenor has said it is considering pulling out of Myanmar, raising concerns about online privacy. 

The arrival of foreign brands in recent years marked a milestone in the country’s short-lived emergence from economic isolation. Now, the recent closures are a sign of a devastated economy. 

“Many shops were forced to close after the coup. It’s not just the branded franchises,” said a resident of Yangon’s Thaketa Township who regularly shops at fashion outlets. 

Large numbers of employees at locally owned companies have also been laid off. Princess Outfit Collection, a chain of stores selling traditional Myanmar women’s clothing, closed its Mandalay branch last month. 

The World Bank has predicted that Myanmar’s economy will shrink by 10% in 2021. Businesses have been suffering a cash squeeze after strikes forced banks to close in the wake of the coup, while consumer demand and foreign investment has dropped rapidly. 

Foreign companies that have stayed are holding back on new investments; the Japanese supermarket giant AEON has halted a $180m shopping center project it was working on with the Shwe Taung company.

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