Seaweed chips, anyone? You might want to wash those down with some chunky water.
Thaifex World of Food was held in May in Bangkok’s Impact Exhibition Center. It was a huge show, comprising some 1,011 exhibitors from 33 countries, 210,000 sq. ft. and 70,000 attendees (22,000 during the trade-only days, 48,000 when open to the public) in its five-day run. It was organized by the Thai Chamber of Commerce and Dept. of Export Promotion.
One of our first observations was the number of booths carrying quality certification marks. ISO 9001:2000, GMP and HACCP shouted from many of the displays (as did Halal certification), as if to allay any Westerner’s doubts that modern, sanitary techniques are used in that country.
Avian flu was “very bad here three yeas ago,” one of our escorts told us, “but it has been eradicated.” Chicken products are strongly rebounding as a key animal protein for Thais. Both in discussions at the show and in visits to processing plants, one of them very remote, sanitation and food safety clearly are paramount with Thai food companies. A traceability system exists for vital export commodities and is growing for domestic products.
Another big label was organic. Organic farming is strongly suggested by Thai agricultural officials, and genetically modified organisms appear to be unwelcome, if not outlawed. Many of the products at the show proudly wore organic declarations.
More familiar, and with good reason, are dragonfruit, lychee, starfruit and mangosteen. Two that seemed unfamiliar, yet impressed most in the group, were rambutan, a scary-looking fruit covered in red tentacles, and longan, resembling large green olives. Both have sweet, succulent fruit resembling grapes.
A quick walkabout of the Thaifex show floor turned up these interesting products:
- Take the same recipe as potato chips but form them into thin crackers and you have Boogie snacks from Nelie. The true potato flavor seems to benefit from the added thickness.
- The chunky water alluded to earlier was a drink with chunks of aloe suspended in beverages of various flavors. Several companies had similar products on display, including Sapanan General Food Co.
- Keko Marketing had two remarkably beautiful containers for its Glinter beverages. A traditional-looking soft drink “can” was made of clear PET, but still had the standard aluminum top and pull-ring. And Glinter mineral water comes in an attractively sculpted PET bottle with a full-width cap.
- Gingen offered tastes of a drink made with chrysanthemum and honey. Floral extracts and tastes were widespread at show.
And there was a handful of American brands. Florida’s Natural, imported by Food Gallery Co., caters mostly to Western visitors and expatriates, although wealthier Thais are appreciating the difference over Asian orange juices. Bud’s Ice Cream from San Francisco has a similar experience, although the American-style products are made in Thailand by a licensee. Dole has a Thailand joint venture. The Washington Apple Commission was there.
Several Thai companies made very good copies of gelato, complete with Italian names.
Dave Rockwood, president of Rockwood Trading, with offices in both Bangkok and Park City, Utah, shared some insights as an importer and exporter: “Our most successful product exporting to the USA is mangosteen, both whole fruit puree and juice concentrates. Thailand has the highest quality of food safety and best supply chain and post-harvest management,” he said.
His most successful product of all imports right now, however, comes from Brazil. Apparently Thailand is just as nuts for acai and its extracts as is the U.S. “Often it is a sub component for super fruit antioxidant juices, then exported throughout Asia in finished goods.”