The Wonderful Horrible Ramifications of Mama Ramen

Photo: Twentyfour Students / Flickr

BANGKOK — When the biggest player in the instant noodle market said its growth had fallen to 0.4 percent, the lowest in its 44 years, the media seemed to hear things differently.

Instead of tea leaves, those reading Thailand's economic vitality have for years turned to their Mama, that beloved brand of dry instant noodles, as a kind of unofficial economic indicator, with higher sales of the inexpensive staple being pegged to bad times.

“Mama Index shows economy is recovering,” read the resulting headline from Post Today, while Matichon topped its story, “Sales of instant noodles hit worst point in 44 years; economy down; people don’t have enough money; turn to eating riceballs.”

These interpretations came despite the noodle-maker’s best effort Thursday to get ahead of the pundits and set the record straight when announcing its earnings Thursday.

“The economy has been contracting for the past two years, but the consumption of Mama, or the ‘Mama Index’ has also been decreasing,” said Vathit Chokwatana, vice president at manufacturer Saha Pathanapibul.

For Matichon, the news meant the current economic landscape is actually even far worse.

“It reflects that people on a low income, which are the main customers of Mama, are severely affected by economic problems,” Vathit was selectively quoted in the newspaper. “It was because the cost of agricultural products, especially rubber prices, were affected by world oil prices.”

Vathit said his customers have turned to even cheaper food than its 6-baht instant noodles, such as instant rice.

Yet in Khaosod and Dailynews, Vathit was cited saying that people should stop reading so much into bags of noodles.

“Mama isn’t an economic indicator like in the past,” he was quoted saying.

Most, but not all media outlets included Vathit’s further statements that spoke optimistically of the broader economy. The noodle chief said his company’s sales would bounce back this year due to economic stimulation by the military government and the newly opened AEC community.