A Billion Dollar Business

The Thai government, increasingly aware of the great potential of fruit and vegetables as a source of foreign exchange, is launching a series of programnes wand activities to draw more buyers

Petchanet Pratruangkrai

A Billion Dollar Business

Tropical thailand is blessed with an abundance of fruit and vegetables. The kingdom earns a billion US dollars from exports, while affluent Thais consume nearly US$ 700 million worth of imported fruits. Its major export markets are China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, the United States, Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and Taiwan. Important fruit suppliers of mainly winter fruit to the Southeast Asian country include China, the US, Vietnam, New Zealand and Australia.

The government’s International Trade Promotion Department has devised a strategy to attract more foreign buyers – organizing field trips for them in the country. The department’s Director- General Nuntawan Sakuntanaga says the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (Jtepa) enables practical cooperation between the two countries.

Japanese importers are especially interesting in buying bananas, mangoes, mangosteens , durians and Nang-lea and Phu-lea pineapples which have certifications indicating their geographical origin, adds Nuntawan. Nowadays, the Japanese are more cognizant of Thai farming and its strong sanitary standards, he says. The Japanese are also interested in importing dried and preserved fruits.

In recent years, the government has encouraged in-store promotion of Thai produce in department stores and supermarkets worldwide. With the help of the private and public sectors, more than 50 such events were organized in 2012.

Although the overall shipment of Thai goods dropped slightly in 2013, fruit export in the first 10 months of the year rose 13.05 percent year-on-year to US$904.64 million. While exports have not risen much, the prices per unit of fruit have gone up 20-23 percent as a number of them face shortages.

Thailand exported 50-60 containers of longan daily to China, Hong Kong and Indonesia during the harvest season in December, says Sunchai Puranachaikere, president of the Thai Fresh Fruits Traders and Exporters Association. China continues to be a major importer of Thai fruits, according to him. Demand for Thai fruits, in general, is strong overseas. The problem lies in insufficient supply.

Hong Kong is a large importer of Thai produce, with a significant portion reexported to the Mainland’s southern and eastern provinces. In fact, just 10 percent of imports by Hong Kong are consumed domestically. Hong Kong imported US$146.16 million worth of fruit and vegetables in the first 10 months of 2013 making Hong Kong , in value terms, Thailand’s second-largest market.


Sunchai says 2013 was a golden year for Thai fruit exporters. Prices kept rising, even though the supply of fruit such as longan, lychee and durian was inadequate. Longan is the country’s most popular export fruit, but falling output has hit exporters’ earnings.

Durian, the second-most favourite fruit in Hong Kong and China, fetched more than US$200 million a year for the country. Other major items include mango, with export value of US$30 million a year, followed by lychees, rambutans, mangosteens and pinapples.

Sunchai forecasts the price of export fruits will remain high in the first quarter of 2014 because supply is low. Prices rose 20 percent in 2013 from the previous year’s levels. When the fruit season begins in February, exporters always expect a slight fall in prices, he says. For the record, in Bangkok, today (January 13) mangosteen exports go for Baht 140 (US$4.3) per kilo; durians sell for Bt 90, namdok mai mango for Bt 95, and longan for Bt 50.

Thai exporters are keen to trade with China and other Asian countries, because they are closer to those export markets than to Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, says the association president.Asian countries also have fewer tariff barriers.


Currently, dried and processed fruits account for about 10 percent of the country’s fruit exports. Many businesses preserve fruit when demand is low. That way Thai farmers do not lose their standard income in the harvest season.

Fruit snacks are growing in popularity. Many brands are now marketed in retail and wholesale stores. Chairat Kongsuphamanon, vice president of Greenday Global , a fruit-snack producer, says that his company foresees great opportunities for expanding its business, thanks to rising demand for healthy foods. His company exports fruit snacks to more than 20 countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Finland, Spain, Italy, France, Denmark, Australia and Japan. Seventy-five percent of the company’s revenue comes from exports, says Chairat.

On the flip side, exporters of winter fruits consider Thailand a promising market. The country’s retail and wholesale trade is dominated by domestic conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group. CP All runs over 6,800 7-eleven stores. The average urban Thai consumer now spends US$150 per month on retail products, of which nearly half is spent on fresh foods. According to the exporters’ association,about 80 percent of the fruit produced is for the domestic market, with 20 percent of fresh and processed fruits for export.

Thais also sell their fresh produce in large quantities to supermarkets and hypermarkets, run by both domestic conglomerates and foreign groups. UKbased Tesco with its Tesco Lotus stores, France’s Casino Group with its Big C Supercenter and cash-and-carry chain Siam Makro operate in the country. Central Food Retail, which operates Central Food Hall and Tops Marketplace, controls a big share of the supermarket business. Foodland supermarket, UFM Fuji, Villa Market and MaxValu Supermarket also run stores in several urban areas.

Some big farmers sell produce directly in big cities. Now a one-stop-service policy has been introduced at Central Market in an attempt to simplify procedures such as handling, grading, packaging, quality control checking and custom facilities. Today Talad Thai, located in Pathum Thani province, and Simum Muang Rangsit District of Bangkok, are rated as the largest wholesale markets for Thai fruits in the country


A Colossal Waste

india is the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables after China. It contributes

Size Isn’t Everything

Officials in china’s Ministry of Agriculture may cheer the country’s huge vegetable and fruit production

A Billion Dollar Business

Tropical thailand is blessed with an abundance of fruit and vegetables. The kingdom earns a billion

Manila Punches Below its Weight in Selling Sunshine Fruits

The philippines is asia’s top exporter of the so-called sunshine fruits, namely the mango, banana

A Promising But Volatile Market

Each indonesian eats an average of 40 kilogrammes of fresh fruit and vegetables per year, according

Selling the Family Jewels

Political turmoil and instability is robbing Egypt of its top revenue earner, tourism. The number