Thai consumers are the most concerned about the social impact of their buying habits, study shows
Healthier habits and better treatment of farmed animals are also a new trend in the country, highlights NGO
A new global survey conducted by the Qualtrics XM Institute has analyzed how consumer behavior has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and concluded that how and what we buy and the brand experiences we expect have changed permanently. Among all surveyed countries, Thai consumers were considered the most focused on "societal impact," with 25% preferring buying from "companies giving back to society."
Besides a growing demand for socially responsible companies, two other studies show another strong trend in the Thai consumer market: a healthier lifestyle. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessed the COVID-19 pandemic's impacts on the Thai food sector and highlighted Thai consumers' adoption of healthier living trends.
"More than ever, consumers are demanding companies to be more responsible about the way their products are produced and conscious about how food plays a big role in determining one's health," explains Phichamon Thamasook, the Communications and Corporate Engagement Manager of Sinergia Animal. "Not only that, but people are making the connection between what they eat and the impact on their societies, the environment, and public health. Fortunately, these consumers are making more informed purchase decisions, and companies are noticing this emerging demand and meeting them," states Thamasook.
The NGO's example is Minor Food, one of Asia's largest foodservice companies with a global presence in 27 countries and more than 2,300 outlets worldwide. As the owner and operator of international brands such as The Pizza Company, Sizzler, Swensen's, Dairy Queen, and the Coffee Club, among others, the company has announced a commitment to source 100% of their eggs from cage-free sources for all of their operations by 2027. "We have been in dialogue with Minor Food and we really admire this decision made by them. This is a big leap from major companies towards sustainable sourcing and animal welfare. We hope this will set a good example for other companies to follow," she comments.
The NGO gives another example from the retail sector, Central Food Retail, the largest supermarket chain in Thailand, which operates 244 stores. Recently, the company committed to increasing the proportion of cage-free eggs to 50% in all its locations in the country. They operate under six brands: Central Food Hall, Tops Market, Tops Superstore, Superkoom, Tops Daily, and Eathai. In 2019, Tesco Lotus became the first retailer in Thailand to commit to transitioning to 100% cage-free eggs by 2028.
This can be a major shift for food security. Major studies conducted in the European Union reveal that the risk of salmonella contamination in cage farms is significantly higher than in cage-free farms. According to the World Health Organization, one of the most prevalent types of salmonella "is estimated to cause 93.8 million cases of acute gastroenteritis and 155,000 deaths globally each year, approximately 85% of which are estimated to be foodborne."
Switching to cage-free eggs is a way of addressing animal welfare concerns since battery cages are considered one of the cruelest practices against animals. Images from Thai farms show that, in this system, hens spend their whole lives in a space smaller than an A4-sized sheet of paper, in which they cannot walk freely or stretch their wings completely. Because the cages are too crowded, the hens lose their feathers due to constant contact with the metal bars. The lack of physical exercise causes them painful bone diseases and fractures.
"Cage-free farms can significantly reduce the suffering of laying hens, as they allow animals to express most of their natural behaviors, such as moving freely, nesting, pecking, and perching," explains Thamasook.
The practice of sourcing cage-free eggs is relatively new to the Thai food industry but is a growing trend worldwide. More than 1,000 companies worldwide such as Sodexo, Compass Group, Nestlé, and Unilever have declared policies to source only cage-free eggs in their supply chains, including Thailand.
"We see a good trend coming from the retail sector in Thailand in the animal welfare and food security area. The announcement from Central Food Retail has the potential to reduce the suffering of millions of animals in Thailand. We hope that many other companies will follow suit," celebrates Thamasook.
The organization also suggests that people who want to have a more compassionate, sustainable, and healthy diet subscribe to their vegan challenge at thaichallenge22.org. "They will receive, for free, daily tips, recipes, and nutritionist support on how to ditch animal products. Aside from that, it is a nice chance for people to meet others with the same goals and build a community," she explains.