Dumbfounded, I blinked at former Editor-in-Chief Bernie Pacyniak when he posed the question back in April.
Bernie asked me at the end one of our standard 10:30 a.m. meetings, which usually involved an equal mix of housekeeping matters, progress updates and chitchat.
“Do you want to go to Thailand?”
I asked him to repeat the question, but it didn’t change. Of course, I’m always up for an adventure, but what did Thailand have to do with candy?
Turns out, the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI), a government agency designed to promote foreign investment in the Southeast Asian country, invited Bernie and other trade journalists on a press junket in 2012 to highlight Thailand’s food manufacturing capabilities. Among other plant visits, Bernie’s trip included a tour of Jelly Belly Thailand, based in an industrial estate bordering the Gulf of Thailand.
This spring, the BOI wanted once more to showcase Thailand’s food manufacturing for trade media, so the agency invited Bernie on a second junket. Having already done it once, he tagged me in.
Honestly, I never thought I’d make it to Asia, but if I did, I wanted to go to Thailand first. I heard the country’s food is delicious and its people are friendly and hospitable. Both statements proved true. (However, I wasn’t a fan of durian, the smelly, custard-like fruit popular in Southeast Asia. I had to try it, though.)
After a whirlwind week, it was clear Thailand has impressive manufacturing prowess, including in the food and beverage sector.
According to the country’s National Food Institute, Thailand is the world’s No. 14 exporting country, with a global market share of 2.35 percent. The country exported 33 million tons of food products last year, at a value of nearly $30 billion. That’s thanks to rising global demand for rice, seafood and canned fruits and vegetables, as well as growing opportunity in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, China and other parts of Asia and the Middle East.
Rice is Thailand’s No. 1 export, generating $5.16 billion in 2017. Sugar, the country’s third greatest export, brought in $2.7 billion last year. Tapioca starch brought in just over $1 billion last year.
Access to non-GMO tapioca syrup was one of the draws that brought Jelly Belly to Thailand. The company has operated in Thailand for about a decade, producing about 10 tons of jelly beans a day.
Jelly Belly is in the midst of its fourth expansion, due to a move into chocolate. The longtime sugar confectionery manufacturer is looking to diversify. But more about that in our August issue.
It’s not every day I get to fly halfway across the world and learn more about food manufacturing, particularly outside of the confectionery industry. I’m certainly grateful.