6 June 2024

The ongoing outbreak is affecting our lives in various ways and going to grocery shopping is no exception. Gone are days when we stopped at a supermarket to pick up a few things on the way home from work. Equally, there’s no more dropping by the fresh market in the neighborhood in the vague hope the stalls might still have some tasty fruit and veg left.

With the lockdowns and curfews in Thailand’s capital and other red zone provinces, our grocery shopping has changed dramatically. The changes are also fuelled by the fact that a lot of Thai consumers have turned to cyberspace to shop since the pandemic hit more than a year ago.

No one can predict how long these changes will last or whether they will continue once the COVID crisis is over. But many of the ways we’ve adapted our grocery shopping are likely here to stay.

Sudden boom in online grocery shopping

Obviously, the biggest change has been the boom in online grocery shopping. Before COVID, online ordering was not all that common though many stores offered the service on their websites or applications. Online orders exploded during the third wave and today those who chose to get their groceries this way are in the majority.

Almost every supermarket chain and hypermarket is offering the service, allowing shoppers to pick the one that best fits their lifestyle and needs. Some have their own fleets and deliver fast while the others require a day or two after an order has been placed.

For prompt service, many have turned to apps such as GRAB and LINE, both of which offer “Mart” services for grocery shopping. In addition to supermarkets and convenience stores, the services also include organic items, flowers, and butcher shops. Shoppers can pick a branch near them, order, and wait for deliveries.

Orders getting larger

Grocery shopping online has slowly become routine for those in charge of the kitchen but they don’t want to do it too often. After mostly staying at home for a year or more, most consumers have familiarised themselves with digital tools and technologies and online grocery shopping is one of them. Confidence in the service has grown and once consumers have experienced the benefits firsthand, their purchases tend to grow bigger.

The closure of dine-in restaurants and the latest lockdowns and curfews, which mean shorter food delivery hours, has motivated many to try their hand at cooking and baking. That means larger and more varied orders. Two years ago, few imagined cooking Korean food or making pizza at home but now, thanks to the pandemic, they are becoming more adventurous in the kitchen.

Orders have grown as consumers stock their fridges and cupboards in case of shortages. A recent example was the rush on eggs.

Physical shopping still, but less often

Shoppers all say they have changed their behavior and now visit the supermarket less often though they spend more when they do. With many limiting these outings to every fortnight or once a month, they choose items that will last longer too. “I  make a list of short and long shelf life vegetables and fruits such as pumpkin and beans so I can cook them later, and I also buy some frozen fruits and vegetables,” Sutthipun Nujjaya
told Thai PBS World.

And when they go, they make sure to spend as little time in the store as possible. Gone are the days of wandering up and down the aisles choosing groceries, shoppers now just pick up what they need and leave. Many wear disposal gloves and some stores have taken notice of this trend and provide free pairs of gloves at the entrance.

Support for communities and small businesses

A growing number of consumers have also adopted shopping locally as they strive to support their communities and businesses whenever they can. Some are determined to reduce their dependence on massive retailers.

Digital tools are helping to provide that much-needed support. For example, alumni of one of Thailand’s leading universities have set up a virtual market on Facebook and are offering a wide range of products – from farmer’s market produce to items usually found in hypermarkets. Similar community markets can be found in various housing estates and condominium projects. The local initiatives come in a form of LINE group chat with members offering products from their own kitchens or gardens to each other.

People are supporting direct food producers/suppliers too, happy to embrace the small shops, farms and fishermen that have launched digital channels to connect to consumers. The operator of “Seafoodseasons” that offers seafood from the fishing community in Prachuab Khiri Khan told Thai PBS World that sales have continued to rise during the pandemic. “During the lockdown in Bangkok, our sales have increased threefold. I think the buyers like the fresh produce and don’t want to leave home to shop at markets. Maybe they also want to support the local fishermen as they are happy to buy even though they can’t choose the size and kind of fish and seafood as they could in a retail outlet. We will deliver what we can get from the sea each time,” says Parinya Padungtin, a co-founder of  Seafoodseasons which offers frozen seafood via a LINE application.

By Veena Thoopkrajae