Agriculture and Human Values 32 (3):445-460 (2015)

Transnational food retailers expanded to middle-income countries over recent decades responding to supply and demand. Control in new markets diffuses along three axes: socio-economic, geographic, and product category. We used a mixed method approach to study the progression of modern retail in Thailand on these three axes and consumer preferences for food retailing. In Thailand modern retail controls half the food sales but traditional fresh markets remain important. Quantitative questionnaires administered to members of a large national cohort study revealed around half of respondents were primarily traditional shoppers and half either utilized modern and traditional formats equally or primarily shopped at supermarkets. Fresh foods were mainly purchased at traditional retail formats and dry packaged foods at supermarkets. Qualitative interviews found price and quality of produce and availability of culturally important products to be significant reasons for continued support of fresh markets. Our results show socio-economic and geographic diffusion is already advanced with most respondents having access to and utilizing modern retail. Control of the fresh food sector by transnationals faces barriers in Thailand and may remain elusive. The short to mid-term outcome may be a bifurcated food system with modern and traditional retail each retaining market share, but fresh markets longer term survival may require government assistance as supermarkets become more established. Fresh markets supply affordable, healthy foods, and livelihoods for poorer Thais and are repositories of Thai food culture and social networks. If they survive they will confer cultural, social, economic, and health benefits.
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DOI 10.1007/s10460-014-9561-z
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