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Challenge of importing the food Phuket loves

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Challenge of importing the food Phuket loves | The Thaiger
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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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We look at the recent changes made by the Australian and Indian governments to except control over the world’s biggest social media platforms. India has issued strict new rules for Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms just weeks after the Indian government attempted to pressure Twitter to take down social media accounts it deemed, well, anti social. There is now an open battle between the rise of social media platforms and the governments and ‘old’ media that have been able to maintain a certain level of control over the ‘message’ for the last century. Who will win?

The rules require any social media company to create three roles within India… a “compliance officer” who ensures they follow local laws; a “grievance officer” who addresses complaints from Indian social media users; and a “contact person” who can actually be contacted by lawyers and other aggrieved Indian parties… 24/7.

The democratisation of the news model, with social media as its catalyst, will continue to baffle traditional media and governments who used to enjoy a level of control over what stories get told. The battles of Google and Facebook, with the governments of India and Australia will be followed in plenty of other countries as well.

At the root of all discussions will be the difference between what governments THINK social media is all about and the reality about how quickly the media landscape has changed. You’ll get to read about it first, on a social media platform… probably on the screen you’re watching this news story right now.

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“The rules signal greater willingness by countries around the world to rein in big tech firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter that the governments fear have become too powerful with little accountability.”

India has issued strict new rules for Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms just weeks after the Indian government attempted to pressure Twitter to take down social media accounts it deemed, well, anti social.

The rules require any social media company to create three roles within India… a “compliance officer” who ensures they follow local laws; a “grievance officer” who addresses complaints from Indian social media users; and a “contact person” who can actually be contacted by lawyers and other aggrieved Indian parties… 24/7.

The companies are also being made to publish a compliance report each month with details about how many complaints they’ve received and the action they took.

They’ll also be required to remove ‘some’ types of content including “full or partial nudity,” any “sexual act” or “impersonations including morphed images”

The democratisation of the news model, with social media as its catalyst, will continue to baffle traditional media and governments who used to enjoy a level of control over what stories get told.

The battles of Google and Facebook, with the governments of India and Australia will be followed in plenty of other countries as well.

At the root of all discussions will be the difference between what governments THINK social media is all about and the reality about how quickly the media landscape has changed. You’ll get to read about it first, on a social media platform… probably on the screen you’re watching this news story right now.

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Never miss out on future posts by following The Thaiger.

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When the airlines, in particular, were asking the government to put their hands in their pockets for some relief funding in August last year, it was genuinely thought that international tourists would be coming back for the high season in December and January. At the very least local tourists and expats would head back to the skies over the traditional holiday break. And surely the Chinese would be back for Chinese New Year?

As we know now, none of that happened. A resurge in cases started just south of Bangkok on December 20 last year, just before Christmas, kicking off another round of restrictions, pretty much killing off any possibility of a high season ‘bump’ for the tourist industry. Airlines slashed flights from their schedule, and hotels, which had dusted off their reception desks for the surge of tourists, shut their doors again.

Domestically, the hotel business saw 6 million room nights in the government’s latest stimulus campaign fully redeemed. But the air ticket quota of 2 million seats still has over 1.3 million seats unused. Local tourists mostly skipped flights and opted for destinations within driving distance of their homes.

As for international tourism… well that still seems months or years away, even now.

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