The tropical fruit durian, known as the "King of Fruits" and also for its infamous stink, green, large thorns or spikes and high-end price tag, is ubiquitous in China as access to the vast Chinese market has become easier for exporters in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, imported fruit market insiders said.
In terms of durian consumption globally, China lags only Indonesia and Malaysia now as domestic production of tropical fruits is limited, necessitating imports.
With the gradual implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership pact, the largest global free trade agreement, and the deepening of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, Thai durian exports to China are expected to surge, said Wanlada Ratanapanich, consul of commercial section at the Royal Thai Consulate-General in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
Ratanapanich said China is the most important export destination for durian growers in Thailand.
According to the Thai Ministry of Commerce, in 2022, a wide range of fruits worth $4.41 billion were exported to China, with durian, mangosteen and longan being the top three.
"China has big potential for fruit exports from Thailand," said Ratanapanich during the Thai fruit festival held in Nanning on Saturday. "The Chinese imports of fruits from Thailand have been on the rise continuously."
Guangxi's proximity to Thailand gives it easier access to the Chinese market for Thai fruit exporters. Prices of durian have dropped considerably after the COVID-19 pandemic control measures were optimized in China, making the fruit affordable for many Chinese consumers, she said.
Yu Huiyong, founder of Shenzhen Pagoda Industrial Group, a leading fruit retailer based in Guangdong province, said the company has increased imports from Thailand, particularly of durians, over the past two decades. The company operates more than 30 plants to process and sell more than 20 varieties of fruits, including durian. It has plans to import 630,000 metric tons of fruits from Thailand this year.
According to Yicai, a Chinese business news outlet, durian dominated the imported fruits market in China in 2022, with a share of $4.02 billion on a volume of 825,000 tons, double that of 2014. According to the General Administration of Customs, between 2015 and 2022, imports of fresh durians to China grew at an aggregated annual rate of 17 percent.
In January, the GAC issued permits to import durian-based products into China from the Philippines. This led to a surge in imports of products like dried durian slices and durian-flavored foods from the Philippines since April.
Wang Jianjun, general manager of Shanghai Wonong Import &Export Co Ltd, told Yicai that durians have topped cherries in import volume, as the company imported about 40,000 containers of durians last year. "The buyers are mostly middle- and high-income families in cities."
Chinese retailers and catering firms have shown a strong interest in durian products. For instance, Wumart group, a prominent retailer in northern China, said demand for fresh durian products has been growing significantly since April, with sales up 70 percent year-on-year, with most imports coming in from northern Thailand and some parts in Vietnam. The products are sold more offline than online. Wumart, however, did not disclose related sales figures in terms of volume and value.
"The durian represents tropical fruits. New ways of selling durians, like livestreaming and digital channels, have boosted sales," said Jason Yu, general manager of Kantar Worldpanel.