Thai Organic Supermarkets Seek to Improve Health

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A Thai business is working hard to expand access to organic food in the country. It sees this as part of a wider campaign to improve health in the country – and its success has caught the attention of the government, which wants to turn Thailand into a global health destination.

The Lemon Farm chain run by Suwanna Langnamsank (http://www.lemonfarm.com/lmf/) was started 13 years ago and has grown to nine organic supermarkets in the capital, Bangkok. Lemon Farm works with 200 organic farms in Thailand and employs 160 people.

Organic food (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food) – grown without chemicals and artificial fertilizers and not irradiated or subjected to other tampering – is believed by many to be healthier because it avoids the harmful effects of accumulating chemicals. It is also thought to be richer in vitamins and minerals because of the use of non-chemical fertilizers on the soil.

Lemon Farm sells made-in-Thailand organic vegetables and fruit, natural gift sets, soap and tea. There are also macrobiotic cafes in the supermarkets called Be Organic.  A macrobiotic diet avoids foods containing toxins (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/treatment/complementary-alternative/therapies/macrobiotic-diet).

The supermarkets use eye-pleasing modern design to set themselves apart from more conventional supermarkets.

According to Lemon Farm’s website, it is a social enterprise and practices fair trade. It is using market-driven solutions to increase the availability of healthy food in the country. It seeks to support small-scale farmers and champion change in farming methods, encouraging a move away from dependence on harmful chemicals that damage human health and the environment and promoting “agricultural and economic self-sufficiency”.

The macrobiotic restaurant operates to six values, among them using fresh vegetables and only using produce from associated farms. The restaurants do not use added sugar, they cook using a pressure cooker, and use natural ingredients such as sea salt, ginger, fermented soy sauce and natural miso. They do not use any artificial preservatives or flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common practice in Asian cooking.

Lemon Farm’s success as an organic food pioneer has caught the attention of the Thai government. The Ministry of Commerce (http://www2.moc.go.th/main.php?filename=index_design4_en) has contracted Lemon Farm to join its campaign to offer organic food in schools and hospitals.

By promoting organic food, the government is hoping to boost farmers’ incomes while improving health in the country and bolstering the country’s thriving medical services industry serving foreign patients.

“We need to promote healthy food and a healthy environment,” Piramol Charoenpao, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Commerce, told Monocle magazine. “Thailand is a medical hub. The idea is to have retreat-style hospitals serving organic food. We’re increasing organic food production and educating people about it.”

Thailand has already built a good reputation with its medical and health services. More than 1.6 million non-Thais are treated in Thai hospitals annually, with an estimated 500,000 travelling specifically for medical treatment (The Guardian).

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra mooted the idea of making the country an international leader in medical tourism in 2003. It is expected providing medical services to overseas patients will make the country US $3.3 billion by 2015 (The Guardian).
 
It is hoped that offering organic food in hospitals and health facilities will boost the attractiveness and effectiveness of using health services in Thailand.

Medical tourism is considered one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. Estimates place it as a market worth US $100 billion. Three countries that compete in this market by offering medical services in the English language include India, Singapore and Thailand. They compete by offering services comparable to wealthier countries but at considerably less cost.

Lemon Farm says it is on a mission to develop the marketplace for organic food in Thailand by educating consumers and producing “innovative natural food”.  It looks like it has already made a big impact.

Resources

1) Whole Foods Market: The world’s leader in natural and organic foods, with more than 340 stores in North America and the United Kingdom. Website: wholefoodsmarket.com

2) Conscious Capitalism: A book by Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey. Website: http://consciouscapitalism.org/resources/538

3) Live Plan: A step-by-step online resource for creating a business plan for an organic supermarket. Website: http://www.bplans.com/organic_food_store_business_plan/company_summary_fc.php

4) Start your own: Health food store: Advice and business tips on starting a health food store. Website: http://www.startups.co.uk/health-food-store.html

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London Edit

31 July 2013

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