The winds of the north: Thailand’s budding food innovation hub

Northern Thailand, known for its rolling mountain ranges and cooler climes, has long stood as the country’s agricultural heart. With its fertile soil fed by the Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, the agribusinesses of the North deliver rice, corn, fruits, and a variety of spices to Thailand and beyond

By Agatha Wong

In recent years, Northern Thailand’s industrial and agricultural sector has taken on a new form in line with an evolving consumer base. As identified by the McKinsey Global Institute, 90% of Thailand could belong to the “consumer class” by 2030, who spend more than US$11 a day and are thus able to afford more than food necessities. At the same time, digital natives born between 1980 and 2021 are projected to account for 40% of the country’s consumption. These figures are thus indicative of a shift in consumer priorities, and consequently, demand: Thailand, together with the rest of the world, is leaning towards healthier foods with functional ingredients and fortifying properties, along with an emerging consciousness of sustainability.

Fresh faces at the fore

Change is thus afoot in Chiang Mai, the largest city in Northern Thailand, with the city’s university leading the way in food technology and sustainable action. Guided by the BCG Initiative which “aims to create a balance between economic growth and natural resource sustainability”, Chiang Mai University is committed to delivering actionable impacts to the region. The acronym refers to the three types of economies that underscore the initiative’s drive to provide income-generating opportunities for local communities: “B”, or bioeconomy, focuses on efficient bioresource use; “C” refers to a circular economy that reusing and maximising resources for maximum benefit; while “G” highlights a green economy that targets pollution and reducing negative impacts to the environment.

To that end, the university’s Food Innovation and Packaging Centre (FIN) provides a one-stop centre for food and beverages who are seeking innovative solutions across all aspects of the production line. Utilising the 3Cs framework, which comprises of Creative Food & Packaging, Consolidated Precision Testing, and Connect, manufacturers will have access to advanced food technology solutions ranging from FDA-approved packaging designs to iExtract, the nation’s first high-value extract facility that allows the extraction of active compounds in industry crops. More than that, the Foodinnopolis located onsite further supports services such as thermal processing, shelf-life evaluation, and packaging testing.

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