Written by 22:35 Business

China’s Lust for Durian Is Creating Fortunes in Southeast Asia

Before he started a company 15 years ago selling the world’s smelliest fruit, Eric Chan had a well-paying job writing code for satellites and robots. His family and friends were puzzled when he made the career change.

The fruit, durian, has long been a cherished part of local cultures in Southeast Asia, where it is grown in abundance. A single durian is typically the size of a rugby ball and can emit an odor so powerful that it is banned from most hotels. When Mr. Chan began his start-up in his native Malaysia, durians were cheap and often sold from the back of trucks.

Then, China acquired a taste for durian in a very big way.

Last year, the value of durian exports from Southeast Asia to China was $6.7 billion, a twelvefold increase from $550 million in 2017. China buys virtually all of the world’s exported durians, according to United Nations data. The biggest exporting country by far is Thailand; Malaysia and Vietnam are the other top sellers.

Today, businesses are expanding rapidly — one Thai company is planning an initial public offering this year — and some durian farmers have become millionaires. Mr. Chan is one of them. Seven years ago, he sold a controlling share of his company, which specializes in producing durian paste for cookies, ice cream and even pizza, for the equivalent of $4.5 million, nearly 50 times his initial investment.

“Everybody has been making good money,” Mr. Chan said of the once-poor durian farmers in Raub, a small city 90 minutes from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital. “They rebuilt their houses from wood to brick. And they can afford to send their children overseas for university.”


Last modified: 17 June 2024