Business

Challenge of importing the food Phuket loves

PHUKET: What is the first thing most expats start to miss from their home country? Family? Maybe for some, but for most it’s food. Luckily, the days when all you could eat in Thailand was the local cuisine are gone.

Today, buying a piece of Dutch cheese, a few slices of Italian ham or some French paté is as easy as pie, and doesn’t require you to dine in a restaurant serving international fare.

The Phuket Gazette recently sat down with Adrian Lanter, senior fresh food project manager at Villa Market, to learn more about the challenges of importing food into Thailand.

A piece of sausage, some homemade bread or a chunk of your favorite cheese brought to you by family or friends from your home country on a visit to Phuket, are not exactly legal, Mr Lanter explains. All food products that are imported into Thailand need Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and it’s not always easy to acquire.

“To import food products into Thailand, you need to have all the licences and approvals, which are easier to get for some products than others,” he explains.

“In my experience, dry products are easier to import, while cold cuts, salamis and so, are declared raw meats and require special licenses.”

With more than 40 years of experience in the business and 50 per cent of its stock sourced from abroad, Villa Market understands what needs to be done to import foodstuffs.

“We have a big line of our own products for which we take care of the licensing. For other products, it’s the importer who secures the appropriate permits,” says Mr Lanter.

“The process [of getting permits] is much easier today. In the past, it could take as much as two years to get a product approved; now it can be done within a month.”

According to Mr Lanter, the rules for importing products into Thailand are very strict, but Villa Market prides itself on working with the authorities to make sure that only the best products are available to its customers.

“Nowadays, it seems that getting some licenses is easier than before, because the guidance is clearer,” he says. “Before, the process wasn’t always well defined and it changed from time to time.

“The rules are in place and have to be followed. If you do, then obtaining the correct FDA license becomes that much easier.”

Each time a new product is imported into Thailand, the FDA requests a full list of its ingredients to make sure it does not include banned substances.

“This is why you will never be able to import Coca-Cola into Thailand, because no one will tell you the recipe. All Coke sold here is made in Thailand,” explains Mr Lanter.

“And then there are a number of products that are not allowed to be imported. With caviar, for example, most producers around the world use a certain preservative to keep it fresh, and this preservative is not permitted in Thailand.”

Before Villa Market decides to put a product on its shelves, it makes sure the producer meets international standards and food licensing standards in their home country. Only then does Villa proceed with preparing documents to get the foodstuff approved for import into Thailand. Once the licend is granted – along with a label in Thai language – the product is ready for sale to local customers – be they expats in search of home flavors or Thais curious to try the culinary tastes of another culture.

“Customers who visit various Villa Market outlets are very different. There is not only a difference between Bangkok and Phuket, but also between Phuket’s north and south,” explains Mr Lanter.

“As a result, our stores vary depending on their [customer] demographics. For example, the store in Cherng Talay has a different range of products than the one in Chalong; with the one in the north of Phuket catering to a different type of consumer, due to its proximity to Laguna,” says Mr Lanter.

With such a variety of customers, it’s no wonder that the whole Villa Market product portfolio comprises more than 50,000 items with about 15,000 different products in stock at each outlet.

— Maciek Klimowicz

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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