Feature article

Thailand food producer bows to consumer preferences

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Contributing Editor
Thailand food manufacturers are embracing new global consumer challenges by leveraging government-supported innovation initiatives to optimize research and development and manufacturing processes to meet the ever-changing demands of the food and beverage industry.

Thailand is a robust manufacturing and export hub located in central Asia, with many large food companies in the region producing large volumes of chicken, pet food, candy, seafood and rice. The country leads the world in exports of canned tuna, cassava starch and pineapple while being ranked second in rice and sugar exports, according to Thailand’s National Food Institute. Overall, the country is ranked 14th in exports among global nations, with a sincere desire to be No. 10 by 2020.

Thai Union, the owner of the Chicken of the Sea and Genova brands in North America, is a food company helping with those important food export volume numbers. Like many other global food producers, the company is now facing a new consumer landscape and embracing innovative approaches for its business model.

“Seafood is not known for innovation,” says Dr. Tunyawat Kasemsuwan, group director for global innovation at Thai Union Group PCL during a recent manufacturing tour of Thailand. “We have ambitious growth goals due to recent mergers and acquisitions, and will continue innovative activities with our manufacturing footprint.” 

To help move toward reinventing seafood products, Thai Union entered into a collaboration agreement with Mahidol University’s Faculty of Science to inaugurate the Global Innovation Incubator (GII), the country’s first state-of-the-art innovation incubator, in January 2015.

The GII offers 1,200 square meters for research and development (R&D) activities for Thai Union, including sensory and consumer insight investigation (e-nose), pilot plant initiation, chemistry, nutrition laboratory testing, and innovative product development and commercialization.

Innovation from an R&D and processing perspective is paying off as Thai Union unveiled yellowfin tuna slices for the foodservice channel this year. 

“The new seafood products, black pepper and Cajun, have been commercialized in several states, and we expect to reach nationwide by the end of 2018,” says Kasemsuwan. Besides yellowfin slices, the company also displayed tuna sausages and meatballs during our manufacturing tour visit. 

The yellowfin slices product won the 2018 Seafood Excellence Award in the best new foodservice product category at Seafood Expo North America held in Boston in March.

The pre-sliced and seasoned tuna is made from whole yellowfin loins, while the cooking process uses high-pressure processing machinery from equipment supplier Hiperbaric. The processing of the yellow tuna loins also includes other proprietary steps besides just high-pressure processing, according to Thai Union.

The company operates 12 factories in Europe, with the King Oscar and John West brands in Europe, and three more processing and packaging plants in the United States. In the United States, the seafood giant will unveil a new club store product in July.  At the time of our visit, the company could not reveal the product, but did mention the new seafood product will be located at Walmart stores in the United States. 

Changing consumer preferences are pushing food manufacturers to be more flexible with their manufacturing processes and product ideation. The pressure is on for all global food producers, and many see it as a critical step to be market leaders for the next 20 years.

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