Providing Sustainable Food in Urban Thailand

Author(s): Kanang Kantamaturapoj, Peter Oosterveer, Gert Spaargaren

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Increasing demand for sustainable foods can be a driver for environmental improvements along the food-supply chain as a whole. Research in Western Europe has confirmed the importance of distribution channels in supplying sustainable food and particularly in how they are able to combine consumer concerns with the specific presentation of sustainability in the shop. In the urban areas of Thailand only some distribution channels for sustainable food are available, such as supermarkets and specialized shops (including specialized restaurants). Supermarkets mostly offer sustainable products, but the range of sustainable products depends on the location of supermarket. Specialized shops focused on organic products, healthy food, or special dietary needs.

This paper reviews sustainable food providers i.e. supermarkets and specialized shops in Bangkok and combines literature review and empirical fieldwork. The focus was on the shop as the location where providers encounter consumers. Sustainability was observed at three levels; the general level, the shop level, and the product level. In particular communication, information, and other trust-building mechanisms at shop level were explored.

The paper concludes by confirming the central role of specialized shops and supermarkets in transition processes towards more sustainable food provision. Their engagement creates a pressure on other actors in the food supply chain such as producers, government agencies, and consumers to also shift their practices. Different strategies can be identified as ways to increase sustainability in food provision.