Processed food awaits snapback
Thai processed food exports are expected to recover in the third and fourth quarters this year after falling 13.3% in the first quarter.
According to Visit Limlurcha, president of the Thai Food Processors Association, Thailand's processed food exports fetched 120 billion baht in the first quarter, down from 138 billion baht in the same quarter last year.
"We expect processed food shipments to remain tepid in the second quarter, but the situation is likely to improve healthily in the third and further quarters as many countries are likely to ease their lockdown measures and allow some businesses such as restaurants, hotels, seminars and catering to reopen, resulting in more spending and consumption," he said.
Thailand reported that overall food exports dropped 6.9% between January and March to 257 billion baht, with agro-industrial products making up 138 billion baht, down 0.6%, and processed food making up the rest.
Mr Visit predicts overall food exports to grow by 3-5% this year.
Last year, food exports 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 (-22%), sugar (-13.7%), canned tuna (-6%), shrimp (-9.2%) and pineapple (-15.7%).
The drop in the value of food exports was due to weak global demand, the strengthening baht and declining world food prices.
Last year, global food trade amounted to $1.3 trillion, down 0.6%. Thailand's food exports accounted for 2.5% of world food trade.
China was Thailand's biggest food export market in 2019, with shipments worth 151 billion baht, a rise of 34% from 2018, 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.
Mr Visit said Thailand's food exports this year are likely to shift production to supplying end consumers instead of hotels and restaurants.
He urged Thai food exporters to prepare for a sea change in consumer consumption and the retail market structure, tilting towards supermarkets and away from catering services.
Food exports are expected to change from big volume in bulky packaging to small portions in tiny packaging, as the spread of the pandemic has caused consumers to change their behaviour, opting to stock food and stay at home to avoid the contagion.