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Tasty bite! How consumers hit a sweet spot with durian

By Wang Keju| China Daily| Updated : Jun 14, 2024

Durians, once considered a niche fruit due to its high price and limited availability, is gradually making its way into the mainstream market in China, due to the rising purchasing power of consumers and increasing affordability of the tropical fruit.

Recognizing the immense potential of the Chinese market, Southeast Asian nations are actively scaling up durian production to meet soaring demand from China. Moreover, the China-Laos railway has improved transportation efficiency, allowing for faster and more cost-effective delivery, analysts said.

In Zhejiang province's Jiaxing fruit market, the largest of its kind in East China, durian sales have touched new highs in recent weeks, with 300-plus containers available daily, resulting in transactions worth over 150 million yuan ($20.68 million), said Ying Jianjun, manager of the market management department.

As sales continue to surge, the average price of durians imported from Thailand has, however, plummeted from 85.8 yuan per kilogram in late February to 45.6 yuan per kg in late May, Ying said, adding that the recent decline in durian prices is a boon for consumers.

Chinese consumers' love for durians has garnered attention worldwide. According to a report released by HSBC Bank in 2023, global durian demand has skyrocketed by 400 percent in the past two years. Notably, China accounted for 91 percent of the global demand.

Consumer awareness and willingness to embrace durians have played a pivotal role in their remarkable sales growth, said Xu Hongcai, deputy director of the China Association of Policy Science's Economic Policy Committee.

Meanwhile, consumers' higher purchasing power has created a favorable environment for durians among the Chinese population, both in first-tier cities and in smaller ones, Xu added.

According to the Big Data Research Institute of popular Chinese short video platform Kuaishou, third-, fourth- and fifth-tier cities accounted for 61.7 percent of the durian consumer base in April this year.

Unlike most other fruits, the majority of durians consumed in China are currently imported. According to data from the General Administration of Customs of China, China's fresh durian imports stood at a mere 28,200 metric tons in 2002, but by 2019, the figure had risen to 605,000 tons.

The passion for durians among Chinese consumers shows no signs of waning. As of 2023, fresh durian imports skyrocketed to some 1.43 million tons, with an import value of $6.7 billion, the administration added.

Considering that a durian typically weighs around 5-6 kilograms, calculations reveal that Chinese consumers devoured about 500 million durians in the past year alone.

The allure of durians has not only captivated Chinese taste buds but has also presented significant opportunities for durian-producing nations around the world. Recognizing China's insatiable appetite for this tropical delicacy, countries such as Thailand and Vietnam have expanded their durian cultivation and production capabilities to meet the escalating demand.

Thailand can produce 900,000 tons of durians annually, with domestic consumption at 300,000 tons and nearly all of the remaining produce being exported to China, said Chai Wacharonke, Prime Minister's Office spokesman, at a Cabinet meeting on April 9.

Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand showed that durian exports to China from January to April this year have already reached 225,204 tons.

Consumption of durians in the Chinese market is trending upward, with expectations of an increase of over 1 million tons in demand this year alone, Wacharonke added.

As China's appetite for fresh durians continues to grow, an increasing number of Southeast Asian countries are strategically targeting this lucrative market.

Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam showed that the area devoted to growing durians in Vietnam was estimated to have reached 110,000 hectares in 2023, an increase of 24 percent compared to the previous year.

Moreover, through the cold chain train services on the China-Laos Railway, the delivery of fruits including durians has become more affordable and quicker.

Previously, shipping durians from Thailand to Kunming in Yunnan province took approximately seven days by sea and around five days by road. However, with the China-Laos Railway, the transit time has been reduced to just three days.