Skyrocketing F&B imports to Thailand signals opportunity

Thai chefs cook with New Zealand produce

11 July 2018

Ryan Freer / Trade Commissioner / Thailand, Cambodia and Laos

The popularity of imported food and beverage (F&B) has been on a steady rise in Thailand. Exclusive imported offerings alongside product quality and experience tailored to local taste preferences is creating a win-win for stakeholders, creating a buzz and strong word of mouth effect.

On top of Thailand’s steady economic growth, healthy trade balance and growth in tourism, Thailand’s increasingly progressive and urban consumers have adopted changing lifestyles and diets. Recent trade figures shows the value of Thailand’s imported F&B to have increased 36.7 percent since 2013 to NZ$ 16.6 billion.

So who are the winners when it comes to meeting this new and lucrative demand? It is those suppliers catering to Thai consumers wanting high value products that are reaping the benefits.  

Hotel, Restaurant and Café (HoReCa) channels are the most effective platforms to understand local taste preferences, educate and culturally inspire locals.  For example, last year, there were 2,774 Japanese restaurants in Thailand, and consumers ranked these restaurants highly. The Japanese influence is also strong within the bakery sector in Thailand. Given the competitiveness of Thailand’s bakery sector, it is important that manufacturers develop and launch products that are creative and will have lasting impact. 

There is increasing interest in Japanese cuisine, with Thailand being one of the top 10 importers of Japanese F&B. Japan’s F&B exports to Thailand increased 8.5 percent last year to NZ$ 347 million in 2017. Meat, seafood and beverages imports from Japan were particularly popular. 

Thailand’s dynamic and eager younger consumers are willing to try new products and are receptive to trends that fit their changing lifestyles.  The Italian, Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese approach closely resembles that of Japan with an increasing number of specialty restaurants and bakery channels.  In fact, Korean F&B exports to Thailand increased 33.6 percent last year to NZ$ 433 million, with fish, fruit and vegetables the big movers. 

Restaurants and food service channels provide a significant platform to understand consumer behaviours, taste preferences, tailor branding and marketing, and above all else, to educate.

Growth of health and wellness food sales in Thailand and medical food is another emerging specialty sector, reflecting the vibrancy of the Thai food industry and further opportunity for New Zealand exporters.

What does this mean for New Zealand? 

This unique appeal of premium imported food among Thai consumers provides an opportunity that New Zealand businesses can potentially leverage in order to reach a wider consumer base in Thailand. 

As well as getting to know your target consumer, here are some ways New Zealand businesses can take advantage of the imported food trend in the Land of Smiles.

1. Use existing channels to educate the Thai Consumer
At present the ability of New Zealand F&B exporters to communicate with and understand Thai consumers is limited to retail. There currently exists significant opportunity for exporters with a retail presence to lift their engagement with consumers. In HoReCa and ingredients supply channels, the responsibility is on the exporter to work with importer/distributers to communicate value proposition and understand local demand preferences.

2. Be Kiwi but tailor branding and marketing tools beyond Point of Sale Materials
Thai consumers are very connected on social media, and this is also the main channel for information on latest trends. One way to gain their attention would be to tailor any branding and marketing efforts that touch the whole consumer journey, while maintaining a sound New Zealand provenance story.  For instance, for a wellbeing product, leveraging New Zealand’s clean and green image but also using social platforms that reach their target consumers. 

3. Understand flavour drivers
The influence of imported food in Thailand is expected to continue driving product development and innovation, especially in the bakery and snack foods sectors. Understanding some of the key flavours, such as matcha and green tea, to incorporate in pastries, cakes and biscuits to be sold in Thailand, can potentially reach more consumers who favour East Asian flavours.

For more info about growing your business in East Asia, see our web resources or call us toll free in New Zealand on 0800 555 88


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