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China's rising durian appetite wows traders & growers

Chinese consumers’ appetite for durian, a tropical fruit known for its pungent smell, has been rising over the past few years. The trend has made it the country’s largest fruit import and has increased trade between Thailand and China.

Since 2019, China has imported more fresh durian than cherries in quantity, cementing its place as the king of imported fruit for China. COVID-19 affected the supply chain for an extended time in 2020, but the pandemic didn’t lessen Chinese consumers’ love for durian, and import volumes have increased continuously since then.

In 2017, China imported 224,400 metric tons of durian. In 2021, the number reached 821,500 tons, and the import value reached $4.2 billion, according to the General Administration of Customs.

Last year, fresh fruits in the order of import volume were durian, cherries, bananas, mangosteens and grapes. Nearly 90 percent of durian imported by China came from Thailand, according to the Ministry of Commerce in Thailand.

China-based Joyvio Group, an online vendor of fruit and the agricultural arm of Legend Holdings Corp, said it imports more than 3,000 large containers of durian from Thailand and Malaysia annually. Each container holds 20 tons of fruit. The company also imports bananas and coconuts from Southeast Asian countries.

In 2021, the volume of durian that Joyvio imported increased more than 50 percent year-on-year. Durian sold best in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and Shenyang, Liaoning province, the company said.

In Thailand, Joyvio operates more than 400 vehicles for transporting fruit. In China, the company operates more than 600 cold-chain vehicles, and it works with three Customs clearance agencies. The company said it has built a whole-process monitoring system from the point of origin to the domestic market.

Joyvio primarily uses ocean shipping for fruit, with arrivals at ports in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen in Guangdong province and Dalian in Liaoning province. It also transports fruit overland through Pingxiang in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and Mohan in Yunnan province, the company said.

China has licensed importation of durian from Thailand and Malaysia. Most fresh durian is imported from Thailand via ocean shipping, and frozen durian is mainly imported from Malaysia via airfreight, according to industry reports.

China’s demand for durian has increased durian cultivation and fueled a price increase in Thailand. A few years ago, the wholesale price of a kilogram of the fruit was between 13 yuan ($2) and 17 yuan, and now the price has climbed to 21 to 28 yuan, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in Thailand.

China is the largest export market for Thai durian, and the fruit tops among China’s fruit imports in value as well as quantity, the ministry said.

Moving durian from Thailand to China takes some 10 days via ocean shipping. Transportation times are forecast to be shortened significantly once the Sino-Thai high-speed railway begins operating in 2026.

Qinzhou Port, part of Beibu Gulf Port in Guangxi, has been designated as the reception area for a large part of the nation’s imported fruit since July 2017, when it started to receive imported durian from Thailand. Last year, the port handled 20,070 tons of durian, and about 90 percent were from Thailand, according to local Customs officials.

The New Western Land-Sea Corridor has helped to transport durian faster by land from Guangxi to other cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuhan, Hubei province, and Zhengzhou, Henan province. It takes three days to ship durian from Qinzhou Port to Chongqing, while it would take more than 15 days for traditional river routes on the Yangtze River, according to Qinzhou Port officials.

The land-sea corridor is to be extended not only from Chengdu, Sichuan province, and Chongqing to Beibu Gulf Port, but also to Yangpu Port in Hainan province.

Qinzhou Port is the domestic port with the biggest number of container ships bound for the markets of member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In 2021, annual cargo throughput at the port reached 160 million tons, local government officials said. Qinzhou Port also handles imports of mangosteens, dragon fruit, bananas, mangos and jackfruit.

Guangxi TWT Supply Chain Management Co Ltd, a Nanning-based cross-border trading company founded in 2015, said it imports fruit from ASEAN markets on a large scale. The company started to import durian in 2018.In the past few years, the volume of durian imports grew by more than 17 percent annually, fueled by strong demand from Chinese consumers.

“We import durian from Thailand and Malaysia worth about $60 million annually. Durian is mainly sold to Northeast, East and South China. Land transport through the New Western Land-Sea Corridor takes half the time of river shipping,” said Wang Zhengbo, president of Guangxi TWT Supply Chain Management.

Since the pandemic, the government has enacted strict management and control measures for many products transported by cold-chain shipping due to the possibility of the virus surviving on some surfaces. As a result, shipping times usually take an additional three to eight days, and logistics costs have grown by more than 30 percent, according to Guangxi TWT.

Southeast Asian countries have continued to export tropical fruit to China, given their advantageous weather, proximity to China and preferential tariff policies.

The period from May to August is the busiest for the durian harvest, and trade at that time is usually dominated by fresh durian. At other times, frozen durian makes up for shortages of fresh fruit.

Even though the volume of frozen durian imports lags behind that of fresh, in recent years, convenience, stability during shipment and cost-effectiveness have made frozen durian not only a substitute for the fresh fruit, but also a popular choice for consumers on its own, according to Goodfarmer Foods Holding (Group) Co Ltd, a Shanghai-based online fresh food retailer.

Goodfarmer said the company regards fresh durian and frozen durian as two categories, and it has two teams doing research on them separately. The company also plans to develop frozen durian as a snack food to cater to consumer tastes.


April 4, 2022

International Tropical Fruits Network

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