Demand for Malaysian durians in China may mean fewer, costlier fruit for Singapore

Jalelah Abu Baker Channel NewsAsia 17 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: Durian lovers here may have to fork out more to get their hands on the king of fruit, with Singapore sellers reporting that Malaysian farmers are exporting more of their harvest to China and Chinese tourists buying the fruit at the Malaysians farms they visit.

As competition for durians increases, prices have risen steadily, said Ms Lilian Teo, 60, who has been selling durians for five years. She runs a shop with her father at the junction of Albert Street and Short Street near Little India.

“They (the suppliers) are exporting to China, so we get less supply and it’s more expensive,” she said.

For example, the Musang King, or Mao Shan Wang durian, was selling for S$8 per kg five years ago. Last year, that almost doubled to S$15 per kg, she said. Currently, fruit shops here are selling their supplies from Pahang at about S$28 per kg at the tail end of the current season. The Musang King durians are the most popular, given their creamy texture and small seeds, sellers said.

Mr Shui Poh Sing, 58, owner of Ah Seng Durian in Ghim Moh, said that while durians are not new to Chinese nationals, they were previously getting supplies from Thailand. More recently, they have been visiting durian farms in Malaysia, and getting their durians air-flown from there in vacuumed packaging, he said.

“They (the Chinese) are willing to pay higher for the durians up to double the amount that Singaporeans are typically willing to pay," he said.

SUPPLY CRUNCH

Singapore's share of the Malaysian durian market may be shrinking, with Malaysian suppliers selling more of the fruit to China. Combat Durian’s Linda Ang said that her regular suppliers have told her about the shift in markets, which has affected her directly.

“There were times I ordered and they could only give me a limited amount, less than my order quantity,” she said. The higher prices have hurt her business too, with a 20 per cent fall in demand at her Balestier Road stall.

Other factors will also contribute to a smaller local supply this year. The crop is unlikely to be big which will keep prices high, said Mr Shui. This is because harvest cycles in durian plantations in states like Johor Bahru, Penang and Malacca have changed.

“When we have durians from different plantations at the same time, the prices can go down to as low as about S$12 per kg, but I don’t think that will be happening this year,” he said. The peak durian season is typically from May to August, but it is “chaotic” this year, he added. Durians from Johor Bahru were available from February, which is uncommon. He said the change was brought about by changing weather patterns.

DURIAN FANS FROM CHINA HEAD TO MALAYSIA FARMS

Director of Malaysia’s Desaru Fruit Farm Alice Tong said that when she started off in 2006, she would see “hundreds” of Chinese tourists per week. Now, she sees thousands of them. And they are more willing to pay top dollar for the fruit.

“For every RM100 (S$32) that a Singaporean pays, the Chinese tourists pay RM200 or RM300.” They also buy in bulk, she said.

Business from these tourists made up just 10 per cent of the farm's sales three years ago, but now, this number has gone up to 35 per cent, said Mr Steve Er, who is also a director at the farm. "They really spend when they like and trust your products. Our fruit farm practises organic farming and they like it very much," he said.

Singaporean durian fan Seettha Wasudevan, 27, has noticed that the Mao Shan Wang durians that she loves have become increasingly expensive. She also finds that the durians are smaller.

But that has not stopped her and friends, who have been holding “durian parties” during the peak season for the past five years. They even have a regular vendor who brings over durians to any venue, and opens them on the spot, as long as they order a minimum of five. This is not a problem, as each of the group of 10 can eat one and a half durians.

She said: “We are all durian lovers. We won’t skip a year just because the harvest is bad, or because the price is high. We will still eat them.”

- CNA/ja

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