If food is life, then Happy Grocers ensures that you maintain a healthy lifestyle with grocery items from safe and reliable sources, eco-friendly packaging, efficient delivery, in short, quality control from farm to table, fitting in perfectly with the Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model.
This online platform, known as “Your neighborhood’s sustainable grocery store” was established by friends, Suthasiny “Moh” Sudprasert and Pattamaphon “Pearl” Dumnui in 2020 to try and reinvent the food supply-chain in Thailand by connecting consumers to organic agricultural products directly in a sustainable manner. During the Covid - 19 lockdown small-size farms had no access to consumers, and were at risk of losing their livelihood. Meanwhile, consumers had very little choice other than supermarkets or deliveries where produce was wrapped in overwhelming amounts of plastic packaging with only its weight and sell-by date as the only relevant information you are expected to need.
Suthasiny and Pattamaphon saw a real need to fill in the blanks. What you put into your body is even more important that what you put on your body, and consumers should be able to avoid questionable farm produce that might contain harmful contaminants or pesticides.
Organic and regenerative farming was what they were after—essentially farming that does not use GMO seeds, synthetic chemical fertilisers and pesticides, but does use traditional farming practices such as crop rotation and composting. They were interested in going to the source of organic farm produce, to ensure the quality of the soil and the farming process, as well as create a “bridge” that connects urban consumers to the farmers in the field. Organic and regenerative farming processes include using natural compost as fertiliser to create healthy soil. Natural compost fertiliser is made from agricultural waste from previous crops. Biological waste such as animal manure can be used to compost. Healthy soil serves to support plant health and resilience.
The growth of agriculture in Thailand and the quest for high crop yields over the past few decades have led to a massive increase and dependence upon pesticides to control insects, weeds and fungi, with herbicides making up the largest proportion of imported pesticides. Not only does this pose a threat to the farmers and their families who are directly exposed to the potential health hazards of pesticide poisoning, it also accumulates in the soil, and lingers in the farm produce that reaches the consumers. Happy Grocers begins with organic and natural seeds which are then grown in nurseries before being transferred into the ground. Without the use of pesticides, farmers have to contend with insects that are part of the organic farm system. Maintaining healthy soil ecology and biodiversity helps to combat pests, as well as a good understanding of the life cycle of pests.
Another factor in organic farming is planting crops within their natural season rather than pushing for off-season crops that result in produce with lower quality and taste. Harvesting is only done when the crops are at their peak for the best quality and nutrient content.
Organic vegetables, particularly, are not even or perfect in shape and size, unlike products from hyper farms where irregular shapes or sizes are discarded as waste. At Happy Grocers, #realsizebeauty refers to agricultural products in the same way people are different in shape and size, yet still beautiful.
Community led sustainable farms are also much healthier for the local communities, where families can live and work together, live a healthier lifestyle devoid of chemicals, earn a higher price for their organic produce, and reduce cost of commercial fertilisers and seeds, where previously bad harvests led to debt and eventually the need to sell off their farmland and migrate to the city to find work. Issues that affect the midstream cycle of farm to table produce is delivery. Normally, farmers had to rely on middlemen to market their produce, and in the case of fruit and vegetables, it would be Talad Thai market in Bangkok, known to be the largest wholesale market in Southeast Asia, or Srimuang Market in Ratchaburi, the gateway for produce to the south. But between the farm and the wholesale markets, there are a series of other “exchanges” that add to the time and cost—inflating the price up to 90% which may not benefit the farmers—and also affect the freshness of the produce.
The Covid - 19 lockdown meant small farmers—particularly organic farms—had limited access to markets. Happy Grocers decided to step in with an online platform, as well as their own delivery service. It was tough for Suthasiny and Patthamaphon at first, with their limited time and resources. But after a learning curve, they were able to put in place a logistics system that worked for them and their customers, mostly regulars. The Happy Grocers home delivery truck with its trademark white body and green roof can deliver your orders within a day.
A social enterprise has to be competitive in the market, and has to be able to attract customers because of the quality products, not just because they want to help society. And although financial success may come gradually, the positive benefits to all—from upstream to downstream—is much more than they could have anticipated. This is further proof that a BCG Economy model—a model that can mobilise small scale farmers to be a part of the change in sustainable agriculture, where new markets can be created for products that are sustainably grown, that support local communities, and benefit the environment—is possible if one makes the effort. Happy Grocers are already looking to the next stage of their business—to expand their market and connect Thai farmers to Europe while ensuring sustainability throughout the supply-chain. Sustainability in the international supply-chain will not be easy but Happy Grocers is ready to take on this challenge and expand their impact to reach 1 million farmers in their supply-chain.