China’s obsession with the prickly tropical fruit extends so greatly that orchards in Malaysia have had to limit visitors to curb the influx of Chinese tourists.
In China, its customs authority revealed that over 250 tonnes of durian is imported every year, with the Ministry of Commerce estimating the market to be worth about US$22.3m. This tremendous supply of durian to China has not only raised durian prices in Malaysia and its neighbour, Singapore, but has also ushered in a flurry of new durian products in China.
A flurry of durian products
The ever-growing durian craze extends to food with durian filling or durian flavour. The variety already available in China’s marketplace includes durian cake, durian cookies, durian pie and even durian coffee.
“Chinese consumers are open to trying different foods which incorporate durian fruit,” said Mintel’s food and drink analyst for China, Loris Li.
“In the bakery market, for example, durian’s use as flavouring increased from 0.82% between June 2014 and May 2015 to 1.34% over the same period the following year,” said Li.
In 2017, dairy giant Mengniu launched its Deluxe brand durian yoghurt made from premium D24 durian from Malaysia. Le Pur also launched its durian yoghurt around that time.
Food products that have crossed traditional Chinese boundaries include Snowy mooncake with durian and mung bean paste, and Sanquan glutinous rice balls with durian filling, launched in February.
Last spring, Pizza Hut had a limited-edition Musang King Durian Pizza, which was far more popular than predicted. The response was so great that the fast food chain made durian pizza available again in the following summer.
In China there are also cafes that specialise in a range of durian desserts. Among them is the Musang King chain of stores, which uses that popular durian variety from Pahang, Malaysia.
Durian Festival and further food opportunities
In early November, 165,000 people thronged the first-ever Malaysia Durian Festival 2017 in Nanning, China. Malaysia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry used the festival to promote Malaysian durian as well as other Malaysian produce.
Malaysia’s Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) said it shipped 5,000kg of durian to China for the festival, along with other fruits, fruit-based food products and coffee.
"Now there are requests from other cities such as Hanjiao, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Beijing for us to carry out agricultural road shows like the durian festival,” Agriculture Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek had told reporters.
Durian exports from Malaysia to China are expected to exceed RM12 billion (US$2.93m) annually by 2020 according to Malaysia’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Said Li, “The trend that people (in China) eat more fruits and vegetables and are willing to pay more for better product performance could fuel fruit market growth and durian, especially the premium varieties, will benefit from such trend.”
“Durian has the potential for application in many food categories, and more foods,” she added.