Understanding The Durian Industry In Malaysia

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Spiky, pungent, and often hailed as the “King of Fruits”, durian is a beloved fruit across Southeast Asia. Love it or hate it, the high demand for durian has made it one of the most profitable fruits for farmers and exporters in Malaysia, which is currently the second-largest durian exporter in the world after Thailand. From 2016 to 2020, Produce Reports shows that Malaysia’s durian exports saw a 107% increase from 69.9 million ringgit to a whopping 144.7 million ringgit. It’s no wonder that the fruit has been identified as a source of agricultural wealth for Malaysia.

Of the many durian varieties available, the revered “Musang King” or “Mao Shan Wang” tops the popularity charts. While the pure, raw fruit tends to boast the highest sales, durian-based products such as pastes and purees are incredibly sought-after as well. Malaysia’s major export markets for durian include Hong Kong, Singapore and Mainland China. In fact, China’s ever-growing demand for durian is expected to drive the global trade growth for the durian industry, with demand set to exceed 25 billion USD by 2030.

How are durians shipped internationally? 

Durians are a relatively tricky fruit for international shipping. While transportation over shorter distances such as Kuala Lumpur to Singapore can be done via trucks across the Causeway, shipping via sea freight requires rapid cooling as durian has exceedingly high respiration.

What does that mean? Put simply, fresh durian fruits take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide in large quantities, which generates high amounts of heat. Hence, reefers and ocean carriers must have good ventilation to preserve the durians’ quality and prevent financial losses. Considering the ever-growing export volume of durian, it’s in the best interest of durian sellers to optimise their supply chain to keep up with market demand. 

In addition to land and sea transport, shipping durians via air freight also comes with its fair share of challenges. Frozen durian pulp is highly sensitive to temperature changes, and must be kept frozen at stable ambient temperatures of -18 degrees Celsius throughout the journey. Hence, cold chain logistics is vital for transporting durian safely on planes — keeping the pungent aroma in check and ensuring the durians are as fresh as possible upon arrival.

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The impact of COVID-19 

But as they say, every rose has its thorn. The blooming durian trade was not spared from the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted countless industries across the globe. 

According to an article by Food Navigator-asia, in 2020, the durian industry in Malaysia faced a dramatic demand slump along with manpower shortages. With strict Movement Control Orders in place, plantation workers were often unable to travel to the farms and experienced a lack of communication with control officers. The pandemic also halted Malaysia’s “durio-tourism” plans, a strategy by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry (MAFI) to attract tourists from neighbouring countries for durian-themed vacations. 

A bright future for the King of Fruits

However, not all hope is lost. A new era of durian sales began, as street sellers who turned to e-commerce experienced a spike in demand amid lockdowns, according to The Straits Times. Online sales have breathed new life into the durian industry, allowing durian lovers to satisfy their cravings through home deliveries. Durians are also more accessible than ever, as customers are exposed to a wider range of varieties — from the classic Musang King to more obscure “kampung” durian breeds like Red Prawn. 

Despite the many challenges for durian exporters in Malaysia, the future of the durian industry remains optimistic, with top exporters such as Thailand reaping record export values and a growing demand from top importers like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. New technologies and logistic advancements are also paving the way for potential growth, as producers leverage cryogenic freezing techniques to prolong the shelf life of durians and blockchain technology to optimise the entire durian supply chain.

On top of that, DHL Express Malaysia recently launched its Durian Express initiative, which aims to help durian business owners in Malaysia meet demand surges by guaranteeing next-day durian delivery services (within 24 hours) to Hong Kong and Singapore. This overnight flight service enables businesses to ship fresh and frozen durians to overseas warehouses and commercial entities rapidly and reliably.