23 May 2024

Consumers behaviors have shifted dramatically during the pandemic, triggering new food trends that prompt innovations. And the health, sustainability, food safety, and animal welfare trends are set to be the center of the plate of Thai consumers and dominant purchase drivers.

“Health and sustainability trends have been shaping the global food industry landscape,” says Assoc Prof Chalat Santivarangkna, director of the Institute of Nutrition at Mahidol University.

Covid-19 rapidly reshapes consumer behaviors

The pandemic has forced people to pay close attention to their health and the environment. More consumers are educating themselves about what they consume, he notes. They are now not just concerned about what they eat and drink but also about where the food products and ingredients come from and how the packaging is made of to ensure that the foodstuffs and production process are good for their body and the planet.

“Educated consumers are watching whether brands and companies are environmentally friendly and making a strong conscious effort to reduce waste,” Chalat says.

Beyond health and sustainability, consumers are also more conscious of food safety and hygiene when buying food products from outlets and eating out following the pandemic, the academics adds.

“Covid has made people feel vulnerable. Consumers are caring more about the food safety standards of the premises. They are more careful when buying food from vendors and tending to buy from those who wear face masks, gowns, and gloves,” he says.

He urges operators of food outlets, restaurants and coffee shops as well as street food vendors to step up their efforts to improve the safety standards of their venues and the food hygiene to boost consumers’ trust and confidence.

Tops food trends that will rule 2022

Chalat also shares 2022 trends of food, nutrition, health, and wellness. Worries about health and the desire to stay healthy have spurred a high demand for health-promoting products that boost the immunity system, improve digestive health and well-being. The following are what he thinks will come big next year:

Low-sugar and low-carb diets

The academic predicts that low-sugar and low-starch diets will continue to thrive as the pandemic rolls out. The diets play a crucial role in reducing the risks of chronic diseases and lowering the complications risks of Covid-19.

During the lockdowns, people were less physically active and had a sedentary lifestyle when they worked from home. Now, they are tending to eat healthier and become calorie and nutritional content aware, he explains.

“In the coming year, we will see trends for healthier foods that focus on sugar and cab reduction and add other ingredients like fiber to improve the digestive health,” he says.

Just a few years ago, the salted egg yolk craze became strong in Thailand. Dishes, treats and snacks that come into contact with creamy egg yolk were being heralded and sold like hotcakes.

Next year, the trend will die out.

Chalat forecasts that healthy snacks like low-carb crispy cereals and low-sugar crispy rice treats will make a comeback. Hot and spicy flavors like tom yum will land itself well in many popular treats and snacks.

“We believe snacks low in sodium and no sugar added like crispy veggies and fruits snacks or crispy enoki mushrooms (hed khemthong) will be in. Many of them will add other ingredients like fiber and protein to make them better for health,” he says.

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Plant-based diets

Plant-based foods are here to stay and grow as more consumers take onboard the pressing health, safety, and environmental issues that are involved.

Chalat forecasts that the two largest sub-categories of plant-based alternatives – meat and milk will be in high demand in 2022.  And almond milk will continue to penetrate the dairy market.

“I foresee plant-based milk products are gearing up to expand beyond soy, which has been traditionally popular as a daily-free alternative. We will see other ingredients like black sesame to add in soya milk to make it more nutritious,” he says.

Comprised of a combination of plants ranging from nuts to seeds and whole grains to beans, plant-based foods can be an excellent source of protein. They look and taste like meat but aren’t. These features make them ideal for those looking to replace meat with something equally delicious but animal-and environment-friendly.

The plant-based market has grown very quickly in Thailand thanks to a surge in the popularity of vegetarian, vegan, and flexitarian lifestyles.

According to Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence Centre, the percentage of Thais who don’t eat meat increased from 4 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2017.

A survey reveals that 28 percent of surveyed respondents said they are trying to reduce their overall consumption of animal meat or the so-called ‘flexitarians’, according to a report by marketingoops.com. It was carried out by over 2,000 Thai consumers.

Since plant-based diets were introduced to Thailand a couple of years ago, the quality of food and menus has improved significantly. While the range has expanded consistently from imitation beef burgers to accommodate the familiar flavors just like imitation Kraprao Kai with riceberry rice (stir-fried plant-based chicken with basil served with high-fiber and vitamin-rich purple rice and imitation Tod-Mun Pla (deep-fried fish pancakes).

The future of plant-based foods will look bright in 2022 thanks to increased awareness of health, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare.

A survey by Euromonitor and Allies research tipped the market value of plant-based food in Thailand to surge from 28 billion baht in 2019, to 45 billion in 2024, with annual growth averaging 10 percent.

“I believe that more food manufacturers will jump onto the bandwagon, especially during the health crisis. And that’s of great benefit to consumers. They will be spoiled for choices,” Chalat says.

Plant based protien is in for 2022

Better-for-health drinks

Functional drinks and herbal drinks will grow in popularity, Chalat forecasts. There will be a wider range of functional drinks like fortified juice, vitamin C fizzy drinks and probiotic drinks that help boost the immunity system and improve gut health.

Last week Bangkok Biz News reported that the market of functional drinks jumped from over 7 billion baht in 2018 to about 8.3 billion baht in 2019 and to 9.1 billion baht in 2020. But, it was shrinking to 8.6 billion baht in 2021 due to the pandemic. As the economy is rebounding, the market is forecast to grow to over 9.3 billion baht in 2022.

Herbal drinks including krachai drinks are showing no sign of stopping as the pandemic continues.

Krachai (fingerroot’s or Chinese ginger) contains the active compound known to fight against Covid-19.

Cannabis-infused food and beverages

Chalat also predicts that food and drinks infused with cannabis will be on the rise next year, due to legalization.

But starting a cannabis-related business is not easy due to restrictions, he notes, warning of food operators to carefully watch the law to make sure that they don’t overstep and to be cautious when marketing anything related to the weed.

The commercial prospects of cannabis-related products including food and drinks become promising as parts of the cannabis plant were removed from Thailand’s narcotics list. They are now regulated for medicinal use. While individuals are also allowed to grow a small number of plants for their own consumption.

Companies and restaurants have capitalized on the legalization and started to serve cannabis-infused menus to consumers. Some trendy coffee shops and chain restaurants advertise cocktails and treat infused with cannabis.

Cannabis-infused drink is the trend.

Black Canyon now serves drinks and treats including cookies and ice cream infused with cannabis. The labels on the drinks claim that they help improve your mood, your eyesight and your skin. They also come with caution messages for consumption.

Last month, meanwhile, the Pizza Company launched the Crazy Happy Pizza – cannabis-infused cheese crust slathered with chicken spicy soup (tom yum gai soup) along with a deep-fried cannabis leaf on top. There is chopped cannabis in the dipping sauce too.

“Cannabis is getting a healthy makeover. We will be able to find it in lots of other foods and drinks next year,” Chalat says.

By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Sukhumaporn Laiyok

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