Consumers’ initial concerns around COVID-19 in Southeast Asia may have been focused around personal hygiene, but they’re now taking their general health much more seriously – beginning with the food they eat, according to research.

A recent study by Singapore-based startup Ai Palette explored COVID-19's impact on consumers’ food preferences, based on 91 million data points from social content and search queries in local languages.

This found that health is top of mind for consumers in Indonesia and the Philippines, with taste a close second; in Thailand, however, those preferences are flipped.

Across the three markets, fresh produce is viewed positively, Salomi Naik, head of innovations and insights at Ai Palette, told a recent webinar hosted by industry association Food Industry Asia (FIA). (For more details, read WARC’s report: How COVID-19 is changing food preferences in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.)

“Fresh produce saw a significant increase in Indonesia and Philippines,” she reported, noting that the Philippines saw an exceptionally high 444% year-on-year growth with consumers opting for fresh over canned and frozen varieties, while demand for fresh fruit and vegetables is mostly driven by health.

However, for Thai consumers, the category is associated negatively with price gouging and unavailability: “This really hampers the consumer experience of fresh produce in Thailand,” she said.

There is also a trend towards homemade food emerging in the Philippines and Thailand, where consumer interest saw a significant surge.

“This is driven by concerns around hygiene and safety, concerns about eating out, and even ordering in from restaurants,” said Naik. There was, however, no change in interest for homemade food in Indonesia during the COVID-19 situation.

Natural remedies versus supplements for immunity is also playing out differently across the markets. “Indonesian consumers are relying more on trusted home remedies to get through the pandemic,” observed Naik. “Consumers in the Philippines and Thailand are more about multivitamins and artificial ways of boosting immunity.”

Sourced from WARC