Moh-Pearl of Happy Grocers, a neighborhood’s sustainable grocery store, a bridge between small-scale farmers and urban residents across Thailand

December 12, 2023


      Happy Grocers is a sustainable food start-up that bridges small-scale farmers and city dwellers throughout Thailand. The duo has cultivated a business that earned the trust of its customers through the delivery of high-quality produce along with a strong commitment to environmental and social responsibility, underlined by a dedicated focus on consumer health.

      This altruistic business originated from a humble beginning, driven by the shared ideals of two close friends, Suthasiny “Moh” Sudprasert  and Pattamaphon “Pearl” Damnui

      Moh and Pearl studied Social Entrepreneurship at Thammasat University. Throughout their academic journey, they had an opportunity to work closely with a group of farmers in their 7-month internship as a part of the International Development Design Summit, organized by MIT in Sisaket.

      Moh and Pearl went their separate ways to focus on their career. However, the onset COVID-19 pandemic prompted the farmers they had connected with during their internship to express their distress on Facebook: “Where will we ever sell our products?” With the pandemic escalating and government-mandated lockdowns in place, the absence of viable economic strategies posed the risk of a potential disaster.

      With their knowledge of Social Entrepreneurship, Moh and Pearl wondered if there was any way to assist the distressed farmers.

      Motivated by this idea, Moh and Pearl returned to work together again.

      "If crops are bound to be produced anyway, it's better to directly sell them from farmers to customers,” suggested Pearl.

       Once again, Facebook was a prelude to their business. Moh posted, "Is anyone interested in fresh produce directly from farmers?” attracting their first customer and many more thereafter.

       Indeed, depending solely on the group of farmers they were acquainted with during their university days would not be sufficient.

       Prior to their official launch, Happy Grocers depended on the support of a senior who, being a farmer with his own network of businesses, played a crucial role.

       "They had faith in our potential, even during our modest beginnings," recalled Moh. "He initially linked us with his own farm and later introduced us to several other farms."

        As Happy Grocers expanded, it reached out to more and more farmers through the assistance of government agencies and the embassy. With a solid and trustworthy reputation in place, an increasing number of farmers started to approach the company directly.

        Afterward, the task lay in the hands of the two close friends, who must survey and assess farms suitable for their business.

        Ultimately, Happy Grocers established connections with 16 farmers spanning various regions in Thailand, including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, the Eastern Provinces like Nakhon Pathom and Kanchanaburi, and the Southern Provinces, each adding their unique regional specialization to the collaboration.

       The two interns, initially acquainted with just one farmer, have evolved into a team with an extensive network.

       This success came from their faith in themselves, which, along with their proven competence and determination, compelled others to join their journey.

       Happy Grocers continued its development and broadened its range of services. They offered E-commerce services such as instant and next-day delivery. They introduced grocery trucks as a pop-up store, traversing a route of over 20 points in Bangkok. Additionally, they supplied the produce to restaurants, produced both domestic and exported coconut water and upcycled bioware. Furthermore, they organized farm trips and tours, along with sustainability workshops for schools and the wider community. Addressing environmental responsibility, they also actively reduced plastic usage in the produce shipping process.

       The core team at Happy Grocers consists of eight individuals, reflecting the emphasis on maintaining a compact structure and, instead, prioritizing collaboration with other specialized organizations.


      What makes small-scale farmers so important?

      "Since the majority of farmers in Thailand are small-scale farmers," Moh elaborated, "establishing a market that can support them enables us to encompass a significant portion of farmers, ushering transformative initiatives like the sustainable food movement and fair trade."

       Happy Grocers prioritized the use of high-quality soil, placing a strong emphasis on the exclusion of chemicals, herbicides, and chemical sewage. At the same time, they focused on offering organic or sustainable produce at more affordable prices for the general population than at present. This approach aims to establish food stability, with direct procurement from farmers playing a crucial role by eliminating numerous packaging processes.

       Supporting small-scale farmers aligns with the pursuit of SDG 8, which aims to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all. The creation of quality products at affordable prices is in accordance with SDG 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. Additionally, this approach also aligns with SDG 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

       Moh and Pearl believed in sustainable consumption, viewing it as a responsibility that their businesses should champion. Consequently, they were fully committed to choosing produce that minimizes negative impacts on both society and the environment for the benefit of their customers.

       "Making daily consumption choices can already be a challenge for most people. Let's simplify it by ordering from Happy Grocers," Moh smiled. "Leave the planting methods and sustainable logistics to us."


       However, currently, Happy Grocers extends beyond organic produce to include organic vegetables, chemical-free vegetables, and indoor vegetables. All products are clearly labeled in their category. Convincing a large number of farmers to cultivate organic vegetables will demand the consideration of many factors such as increased time and costs, and finding the buying market.

      “More importantly, while many often regard organic produce as the best, we believe the food system should diversify planting methods based on the resources available in each region.”

       "For example, Kale is a delicate vegetable. Cultivating it in Chiang Mai's soil and transporting it to Bangkok affects its freshness and contributes to food waste. Opting for indoor cultivation within a 30-minute trip is more sustainable," explained Moh.

       Effectively promoting regions to plan suitable planting schedules for each season aligns with SDG 11 which aims to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

       Happy Grocers does not demand perfect, beautiful produce akin to those found in the supermarkets. Thanks to this acceptance of "marketable imperfection," there is no need for chemicals and herbicides to enhance the appearance of the produce. It is the responsibility of the duo to convey to customers that these less visually appealing vegetables come from the same farm and what customers should prioritize instead of making judgments solely based on appearance.

      Moreover, they invited the customers to witness the three-year proven commitment of Happy Grocers at the actual farms. Already, there are returning customers who place their trust and family’s groceries in the hands of the duo and a thousand farmers.

      Moh explained that the major food industries in Thailand often dictate planting specifications for farmers, which may not always prioritize consumer health. It would be preferable if the government could offer support to start-ups in advocating for safe food, whether through funding or networking. This potential support aligns with SDG goals, specifically SDG 9, on building extensive and sustainable industrialization, and SDG 12 which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

      Their passion is to ensure that sustainable food is accessible without requiring privileges. While proud of their efforts, they acknowledged that this was merely the initial step toward achieving their ultimate goal.

      "Throughout our studies, all subjects were intertwined with SDGs. However, sustainable finance was rarely discussed. Some may think that social work is not a long-term and sustainable profession. Nevertheless, Happy Grocers stands as proof that such endeavors can be both lifelong goals and financially sustainable," remarked Moh.

       When asked to advise individuals who aspire to make an impact on their society, Moh suggested examining the resources available in one's area and finding the courage to start small.

       "We subscribe to the theory that small yet consistent growth will eventually result in a widespread impact. Be the change maker.”

        What is your vision for an ideal world?

        “I want green spaces to coexist with the ever-developing world,” said Pearl. She noted that agricultural businesses might not yield as much revenue as the technology sector, potentially persuading individuals to convert green spaces intended for food into more profitable ventures. This, in turn, could lead to reduced food accessibility due to increased prices.

        “I hope people will continue paying attention to the environment and agriculture. Access to good food should be a fundamental necessity available to everyone, regardless of wealth."