Thailand still represents an "attractive opportunity" for investors despite the country's economy taking a "beating" from the global downturn, new research has claimed.

Real GDP is forecast to fall by 4.5% in 2009, according to a study by Business Monitor International, but the Thai economy is showing "embryonic signs of recovery", the researchers said.

GDP is forecast to grow by 2.2% in 2010 and Thailand's status as a major agricultural producer gives local manufacturers "easy access" to raw materials, BMI's Q1 2010 report into the country's food and drink sector claimed.

The Thai government is promoting the development of value-added production and the sector remains fragmented, the report noted.

"Thailand has become one of the world's leading food producers and is the largest food exporter in south-east Asia," BMI said. "The industry consists of more than 10,000 companies, most of which are small companies and cottage industries, only around 15% are medium to large enterprises, although the sector has attracted a number of industry majors - including Unilever and Nestlé."

The researchers claim that Thailand could be an "attractive investment choice" for companies wanting a regional hub but put off by higher costs in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Revenue from Thailand's mass grocery retail sector is forecast to rise by 46% in 2014, compared to 2009 levels, reaching THB644.7bn (US$19.47bn).