Challenges and opportunities for Thai plant-based foods businesses


A great majority of Thais want to reduce their meat consumption within two years for health, environmental and animal welfare reasons, according to the latest research by Madre Brava, a non-profit organisation that aims to create a sustainable food system.

The Thai consumer survey showed that the majority want to switch to consuming plant-based protein and other alternatives instead of meat protein.

The higher price of such products compared to meat and difficulty in access due to limited distribution remain hurdles. People also have concerns about the high processing of these foods, making it an important factor in consumer decision-making.

A survey of Thai consumers by Northstar / HarrisX research agency reveals the opinions of target groups regarding concerns about the consumption of alternative protein. Consumers were separated into 4 groups and their responses were as follows:

Among people who want to consume plant-based foods such as nuts and seeds, more than processed food:

- Alternative proteins are too expensive.

- Alternative proteins are highly processed.

- Alternative proteins are not available in general stores, that consumers can easily access.

Southeast Asia regional director of Madre Brava, Chakchai Chomthongdee, said that things would change if the alternative protein could be made cheaper, people could have easier access and alternative proteins could become a regular part of restaurant menus.

In addition, non-vegetarians would prefer protein alternatives that retain the flavour of meat. You can also order a menu that combines alternative proteins with meat. This will have a more beneficial effect than eating meat alone.

A group of respondents who agreed with support for alternative protein want to see an adjustment to tax collection to make the products cheaper. They expressed support for increasing investment in agriculture, research for the environment, developing alternative protein to reach consumers and set the tone for food retailers to follow nutritional guidelines for health. They support creating awareness and understanding among consumers, such as health and environmental risks from the meat industry along with pointing out the benefits of other alternative foods.

Opportunities in plant protein

At present, both the public and private sectors must improve on the limitations towards the transition to healthier and more sustainable consumption as well as create opportunities for growth in the Thai food production sector, he said.

‘If the government has a policy to seriously support the production of plant-based protein and alternative protein, both for domestic consumption and export, it would be able to correspond with the direction of both the domestic and export markets,” Chakchai said. He called for urgency in action, warning if Thailand does not start changing now, it may miss the train and lose another opportunity.

Thailand does not only produce food for domestic consumption. But it is also an important food exporting country in the world, he said, adding, "If we adjust the proportion and have more plant protein foods, it will allow us to have good quality food at a price that consumers can access not only in Thailand but also in our export markets.”

“Thailand has food technology, and we are a top player in the world, especially when compared to our population and country size.

"Therefore, if you want to develop further in any area, the existing potential should be considered, along with changes and needs at the international level as well," Chakchai said.

Plant-based protein is part of the food of the future. If we want to be the kitchen of the world ,this approach will make us a leader in food, he said. And since the latest negotiations at COP28, food has been officially added to the agenda. A major shift in the world's diet is likely coming.

"I believe that for a short time, we cannot avoid interactions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in food production any longer," Chakchai added.

Soon, the agricultural sector will become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the EU. As a result, many Thai export markets have begun to take trade measures regarding this matter.

Therefore, Thailand should look ahead, invest in research, and encourage farmers to become one of the leaders in sustainable food. The important thing is for small farmers to benefit the most from this transition, Chakchai said.