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Mental Health Crisis: Thailand’s Surprising Food & Drink Solution – Comforting the Stressed Nation!

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Rashmika Khanijou, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel Reports Thailand, has shed light on the rising awareness of mental health among Thai citizens. With nearly half (45%) of Thais agreeing that mental wellness is becoming a bigger priority for them, the need for mental health support in Thailand is growing more than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic, paired with the ongoing Ukraine conflict, has led to financial distress for many Thai people, with 77% stating they have been affected by rising prices (i.e., inflation) according to the Mintel APAC Economic Tracker. This has resulted in increased stress for 46% of Thai consumers, along with other mental health concerns like insomnia, anxiety, loneliness, and burnout.

As consumers become more conscious of their mental wellbeing, they’re turning towards food and drink for support. Mintel research shows that 51% of Thais actively seek ways to reduce stress, with juice being the top choice (71%), followed by comfort foods like salty snacks (62%) and ice cream (61%). However, preferences for mental health support via food and drink vary across age groups, reflecting generational differences in needs and preferences.

Holistic Nutrition Seekers

Nowadays, many Thai consumers adopt a holistic, proactive, and ongoing approach to health and wellness. Mintel refers to this group as “holistic nutrition seekers,” who believe that food and drink can improve mental wellness and strongly emphasize “food for the mind.” Thai Gen X (aged 43-58 in 2023) comprises 51% of this group, agreeing that mental wellness is becoming a priority for them. Most notably, 45% of holistic nutrition seekers report feeling emotionally distressed.

Dietary fiber has been associated with healthy aging and improved mood, with 46% of Gen X agreeing that a healthy gut can lead to a good mood. This emphasizes the importance of spotlighting high-fiber ingredients in messaging for older Thai consumers, who show increased interest in nutritional psychiatry and the mind-body connection.

Emotional Indulgers

On the contrary, Thai Gen Z (consumers born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s) represents the loneliest generation. While experiencing higher rates of loneliness, Gen Z is less likely to prioritize mental wellness. Unlike older consumers, Gen Z and young millennials (aged 27-42 in 2023) prefer sentimental experiences for mental wellness enhancement.

Comfort food plays a significant role in supporting mental health for younger Thais. For instance, many young Thai women aged 18-24 turn to indulgent comfort foods like salty snacks (73%) and chocolates (72%). Although comfort foods are typically high in fat or sugar and may have low nutritional value, they can trigger emotional responses and temporary stress relief, as well as release dopamine, which contributes to feelings of pleasure.

The Role of Brands

With mental health becoming less taboo, consumers expect brands to address the issue directly. About 31% of Thai consumers show interest in snack options designed for mental wellness. Brands have the opportunity to position pleasurable food and drink products as necessary self-care components in these challenging times, thus strengthening their market position.

It is crucial for brands to maintain their value proposition and demonstrate how they can help solve problems for their target market while balancing ethical and commercial considerations. While food and drink cannot cure mental health issues, their role in providing mental support (e.g., comfort) cannot be underestimated. In difficult times, these small moments of joy can offer hope and respite to consumers.

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