Thai food trends: Plant-based diets and personalisation on the rise as health awareness increases

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

The survey also revealed 90% said they plan to eat more fruit or vegetables, 53% said they were looking to reduce meat intake and 45% said they were thinking of following a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet.
The survey also revealed 90% said they plan to eat more fruit or vegetables, 53% said they were looking to reduce meat intake and 45% said they were thinking of following a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet.

Related tags Thailand plant-based vegetarian personalisation Trends South east asia

New research has revealed that about four in five (79%) Thai consumers would like to have a healthier diet in 2018 – with interest in plant-based diets on the rise.

Almost half (48%) of the 1,500 Internet users aged 16 and above living in the metropolitan areas of Thailand that were surveyed in May said they plan to adjust their diets over the next 12 months for their personal health and wellness.

These findings were evident in the latest research from market intelligence agency Mintel.

Among these, 90% said they plan to eat more fruit or vegetables, 53% said they were looking to reduce their meat intake and 45% said they were thinking of following a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet.

“Amidst rising income and rapid urbanisation, consumers in Thailand are embracing the benefits of personal wellness, and, as a result, are increasing their efforts towards self-betterment. Thai consumers are not only cutting back on their bad habits, but also paying more attention to what they are consuming,”​ said Delon Wang, trends manager, Asia-Pacific, Mintel.

Wang revealed to FoodNavigator-Asia​ that social media, blogs, online forums, government messages and regulations, advertising and word of mouth were some of forces forming Thai consumers’ perceptions of a healthy diet. Others include online superfood trends as well as fitness and wellness applications.

“An increased standard of living and rising aspirations for a more fulfilling lifestyle are among the key drivers that typically encourage people to look for and consume information from these said channels,” ​said Wang.

Suddhanya Yupho, Insight Analyst – Thailand, Mintel, also told us, another influencing factor is that Thai consumers are concerned about product safety.

“Our research found that half of metro Thais agree that ‘safe to use’ is the most important factor when choosing to pay a premium for everyday goods. This could be another factor that is driving interest in natural and healthier products,” ​said Yupho.

Thais seeking customisation

“Our research indicates that customisation can be a key player in consumers’ pursuit of bringing positivity into their daily lives. As well, instances of customisation can be introduced in everyday products,” ​Wang added.

About two in five (41%) of metropolitan Thais think that brands that offer them the choice to personalise or customise their purchases provide the sense of a premium service.

Moreover, 67% of them prefer the option of being able to personalise or customise food.

Wang told us that there are a number of foodservice establishments in Bangkok today that cater to consumers who wish to customise their meals.

This may also indicate a potential for food firms.

In terms of everyday purchases, Wang said high quality (63%) is the top influencer, while convenience (48%), price (38%), durability (37%), and customisation (29%) are next.

Major digital influence

Furthermore, 63% of metropolitan Thais are getting their nutritional or dietary information from online searches and 54% through via social media or blogs.

“Through their social media channels, influencers typically paint a lifestyle that is both inspirational and aspirational to others. In this case, influencers who regularly share their exercise regimes as well as everyday healthy diets on their social platforms are helping to influence the desire for healthier lifestyles among Thai consumers,” ​said Yupho.

“With so many choices in the market, consumers may start skewing toward brands that help guide them in their purchase decisions and aid in their journey of self-betterment. To stand out against the crowd, brands should consider offering advice to help inform these decisions,”​ added Wang.

“As reflected in our research, brands can leverage digital channels to ensure they are at the top of mind among Thai consumers, especially in this day and age where more and more consumers are moving online.”

Natural and healthy preferences

The research highlights that 67% of these consumers describe ‘healthy food’ as all-natural ingredients, 61% as low fat, 56% organic, 55% low in calories, and 54% low in sugar.

What’s more, 53% are avoiding saturated fats, 43% are avoiding refined sugar and the percentage of those avoiding salt and red meat are each 33%.

Companies are also aware of consumers’ preference for all things natural. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), 41% of food and drink products launched in Thailand in 2017 featured a ‘natural’ claim, up from 34% in 2010.

“Based on what we have observed from the market, the snack category stands out when it comes to product innovations that provide consumers with healthier alternatives. Not just with health claims, brands are also changing their product formulations and processing techniques,” ​Yupho told us.

“In fact, more and more are coming up with healthier versions of ingredients like rice, vegetable, mushroom and other plant ingredients. Other categories that also reflect this trend include dairy and dairy alternatives as well as the bakery.”

Warming up to plant-based

Finally, the research revealed that Thai consumers were gradually warming up to the idea of plant-based food and drink offerings.

About 76% of consumers agreed that plant protein (such as legumes and nuts) is just as nutritious as animal protein (meat and eggs), while 55% agreed that plant protein tastes better than animal protein.

“To appeal to Thai consumers who are starting to adopt better lifestyle habits, more companies should offer food, drink, beauty and personal care products that are made with natural formulations, seeing as there is demand in the market,”​ said Jane Barnett, head of insights, South APAC, Mintel.

In addition, consumers’ preference for natural, simple and flexible diets will drive further expansion of plant-based alternatives especially as they are finding them just as nutritious and tasty as animal-based food and drink products.”

Recently, market research firm Euromonitor International said that four of the top five global vegetarian markets are in Asia​, but said industry needs to be aware of national trends to have sales success.

At the Healthy Ageing APAC Summit in June organised by FoodNavigator-Asia​ and NutraIngredients-Asia​, Eugene Wang, founder of plant-based seafood firm Sophie’s Kitchen, also said interest in alternative protein is rapidly growing across Asia-Pacific but food firms need to rethink their approach to Asian preferences​.

Meanwhile, at Fi Vietnam, Dr Pisit Dhamvithee, assistant professor of the Product Development department of Kasetsart University and head of the Product Innovation Research Unit (PIRUN), spoke on 10 food and beverage trends around the world that have already trickled into the Thai market ​in 2018 and are starting to shape the ‘next generation’ of consumer demands.

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