The country promotes itself as the "Kitchen of the World' on account of its strength in the food industry, arising from its abundant natural resources, continuing investment in food innovation and commitment to food safety standards. In 2021, Thailand ranked 13th largest food exporter in the world, with exports valued at USD30.5 billion.
However, the country is not resting on its laurels and is pushing ahead to meet the growing global demand for healthier food, and so-called food of the future, such as plant-based proteins and meat alternatives. Presently, Thailand is the world's 25th largest exporter of alternative proteins, with USD1.21 billion worth of food of the future in the first quarter of 2022, up 26% on year. Major markets include US, China and Vietnam.
With an increasing number of conglomerates, SMEs and food tech start-ups entering this segment, Thailand's future food offering is increasing in both quantity and quality. To compete producers not only aim to create the taste and texture of traditional meat products but also explore the use of new primary ingredients such as chickpea, mushrooms, and barley instead of soy, corn and wheat. Exotic seasonings from fruits, spices and herbs are inventively added to make future food products from Thailand stand out.
Smith Taweelerdniti, the producer of Let's Plant Meat said the key to success is to find a balance in the flavor, health and environmental benefits. "Whoever that could skew the consumer demand toward more sustainable and more healthy, I think, is a boon for the planet," he said in an interview to CNBC Asia. "It's about creating the flavor and aroma, this is the key."
Scaling up innovation is part of the Thai government's plan to promote the sector as a key economic driver. Thaifex, the largest food and beverage trade show in Asia steadily offers food innovators chances to showcase their ideas. A food tech team from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University won the ASEAN Food Innovation Challenge 2021 with "The Marble Booster", plant-based Wagyu-style marbled-meat slices infused with immune-boosters, turmeric and black-pepper extracts. The product will soon be sold at convenience stores.
Thailand's other alternative proteins, namely edible insects, a well-known local delicacy, and protein sourced from insects have long made inroads into markets including US, UK, Germany, and South Korea. Popular insects like crickets and grasshoppers are used as ingredients in preparations including canned food, pastry and candy. As growing concerns about food security and sustainability are boosting global demand, Thailand aims to step up sales of edible insects and insect protein powders and its current rank of 17th largest exporter of live insects.
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