Thai grocery trucks get new life from coronavirus shutdown

PATHUM THANI, Thailand (Reuters) - Cries of “Food, here comes the food,” echoed through a Bangkok neighbourhood as Wannapa Yarnsarn’s truck arrived with everything from mangoes and dried chillies to fresh pork for sale.

Slideshow ( 10 images )

People emerged from homes where they have been sheltering in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, choosing their shopping from display racks packed with bags of produce on the back of the truck.

For generations such mobile shops were common in Thai neighbourhoods but new shopping malls with their big supermarkets and convenience stores with microwave-ready meals have nearly driven them out of business.

Now the coronavirus outbreak has given some of the back-of-a-truck shops a new lease of life.

“Although I’m scared of the virus, I still have to come out and sell, otherwise customers won’t have anything to eat,” said Wannapa, as she weighed and bagged produce for her customers.

Wannapa said business had been good since the coronavirus virus emerged in January with an average daily profit of 2,200 baht ($67) compared with about 1,800 baht ($55) before.

Panalee Phatraprasit, the director of a wholesale market that serves hundreds of trucks plying their trade in Bangkok, also said the virus outbreak was good for a business that had long been in decline.

“Over the years, customers have gradually changed their behaviour because they have more choices, more access to products than before,” she said.

“But once COVID-19 hit, the trucks are doing better because more people are staying home, and they’re buying more per household.”

Thailand has reported 2,613 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 41 fatalities.

The government is trying to limit social gatherings and is urging people to stay at home. Shopping malls have been ordered to close except for restaurant deliveries and supermarkets, and a six-hour curfew is in force at night.

“There are too many people at the supermarkets,” said Thepparak Bankajee, 43, an industrial worker now staying at home.

“We don’t want to go out anyway because we all know that the food truck will be here.”

(The story fixes spelling of name in paragraph 7)

Additional reporting and writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Robert Birsel