Food exporters urged to think smaller
Thailand's food exporters have been warned of a sea change in consumer consumption and the retail market structure, bending towards supermarkets and away from catering services.
Visit Limlurcha, president of the Thai Food Processors Association, said food exports are expected to change from big volume in bulky packaging to small portions in tiny packaging.
"The spread of Covid-19 has caused consumers to change their behaviour, opting to stock food and stay at home to curb a possible contagion," said Mr Visit. "Demand for food at supermarkets is higher than catering following worldwide lockdown measures."
He said a drop in tourist numbers has also slashed food demand at restaurants and hotels.
"Thai food processors that used to supply both catering markets and supermarkets should think of shifting to more small packaging to serve consumers such as ready-to-eat and small portions," said Mr Visit.
He predicted overall food exports to grow by 3-5% this year, although shipments in the first quarter shrank 4.6% to 47.9 billion baht.
"We expect food exports to recover to healthy growth in the third and fourth quarters," said Mr Visit.
Food exports last year dropped 3.8% in baht terms to 1.03 trillion baht, but rose 0.2% in dollar terms to $33.1 billion, while food imports amounted to 401 billion baht, down 0.1%.
Items that registered declines were rice, which fell 22%, sugar (-13.7%), canned tuna (-6%), shrimp (-9.2%) and pineapple (-15.7%).
The drop in the value of food exports was attributed to weak global demand, the strengthening baht and declining world food prices.
Global food trade last year amounted to $1.3 trillion, down 0.6%. Thailand's food exports accounted for 2.5% of world food trade.
Last year, China was Thailand's biggest food importer, with shipments worth 151 billion baht, a rise of 34% from the previous year, making up 14.7% of total food exports.
Thailand is one of the world's leading food exporters, with rice making up the largest share at 17.5%, followed by chicken, sugar, processed tuna, tapioca flour and shrimp.
In a related development, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said after the pandemic, the government in partnership with the private sector looks set to stimulate food exports through PR and sales promotions.