Who's buying up our durians?
Suppliers reveal that demand from China is driving up prices of the king of fruit. -TNP
Durian season is here, but we have a problem.
Supply is somewhat thin, and not just because of the foul weather up north. The Chinese, it seems, have developed a taste for durian too.
All that means if you do get your favourite durian, it's likely to be pricier.
Said Mr Goh Meng Chiang, who is durian supplier to the stars: "Now, when I bid for a basket of durians, I find out that the Chinese have already put a bid on it.
"I end up having to pay about 30 per cent more for a basket of durians."
Mr Goh, 35, counts among his customers Hong Kong gambling and real estate tycoon Stanley Ho, who sends his men down from Macau on a chartered flight to pick up durians from him every July.
His durians come from Malaysia, as do 90 per cent of those here.
Is Mr Goh talking up the price of the precious commodity here?
Said Mr Robin Neo, who works at Kean Lye Fruit Trading on Upper Serangoon Road: "Our selling prices have gone from $12 to $15 per kg to $18 per kg."
But don't panic just yet, durian lovers.
Mr Neo added: "It's just the start of the durian season and things may get better."
The top pick is the mao shan wang (Mandarin for "cat mountain king") variety of durian, which is first off the shelves at the start of the season.
The XO and D24 specimens come in only later, in July.
But even at $18 per kg - or more than $30 for a durian - fans are grabbing them as quickly as they land here.
Said Mr Goh: "Now, I have Chinese customers who love durians. There's a group of five or six Chinese nationals who come twice a week.
"One guy will fly here when he knows it's in season. He calls me and reserves the durians that he wants."
Mr Goh had almost sold out his supply of mao shan wang when The New Paper spoke to him at 6.45pm on Sunday. He revealed that he imports about 200kg of durians daily.
In January, The Straits Times reported that 10 durian importers here found it more expensive to get quality durian.
Mr Teoh Ah Yi, director of Geylang's Fruits Top 1 Department Store, said mao shan wang used to cost consumers $10 per kg, but that the Chinese are willing to pay up to $16 per kg.
Figures released by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore showed how the quantity of durian imports have changed.
It fell from 23,300 tonnes in 2008 to 19,000 tonnes in 2010. Estimated figures for last year put it at 22,700, but importers say the increment could be a result of last year's good harvest.
The problem is that the bulk of mao shan wang here is imported from Pahang, Malaysia, where the best of the variety are grown, say durian sellers.
And bad weather and increased demand is now putting a strain on the supply.
A Malaysian supplier, who gave his name only as Ah Hock, 40, told TNP: "The supply to China is slowly going up."
He is one of a few suppliers to a company that exports to China.
"Last year, we supplied a few hundred kilos of mao shan wang to China," he added.
A durian seller at a stall at Pasir Ris Drive 4, who gave his name only as Uncle Chia, lamented that the mao shan wang durians which do end up here are usually not the best.
He told TNP in Mandarin: "The flesh is very dry. The quality is not too good. But it's still early now. You should wait for July."
He said he is hoping that the peak of the mao shan wang harvest - at the start of July - will bring him fruits of better quality.
The durian season is expected to last till September.
Mr Neo said he now sees about 10 customers from China at his stall every day. They were a rare sight just last year, he said.
So is the price of the top durian going up?
Mr Goh said he is holding back on raising his prices because he believes that customers would rather miss out on the king of fruits if it costs them more.
"One basket, about 40kg, costs me around $500. Last year, I could buy one basket for about $300," he said.
"Some customers have complained that this year's durian is not as good. If the weather isn't good, the quality and quantity drops."
One such customer was Ms Joy Tampi, 37, who works with a consulting agency.
As she feasted on the pungent fruit, Ms Tampi said: "It doesn't taste as good."
Another mao shan wang lover, who gave her name only as Mrs Wong, felt that the current price was a little steep.
Still, she left Mr Neo's stall with 4kg of the premium durian.
She said: "I usually pay $12 or $15 a kilo. It's rarely $18. That's quite costly. But I know of stalls that sell it for $28 a kilo.
"But it's like when you want to have good chocolate. You have to pay for it."
This article was first published in The New Paper.
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