In China, durian is no longer considered as just a fruit, as the creamy durian flesh is added to congee, pizza, sushi, lasagne, bread and of course, confectionery.
As durian now has broader food application, Queen Frozen Fruit Co, Thailand’s largest frozen durian producer, is revving up exports of durian to China, particularly via the online channel. “We have exported fresh durian to China for several years,” said Kanjana Yaemprai, President of Queen Frozen Fruit. “There is a huge demand for Thai durian throughout the year, so we started producing frozen durian since the 4th quarter of 2017. For the first 3 months of 2018, we already gained sales of up to Bt 800 million (US$25.1 million) from frozen durian.”
This year, the company expects to sell 400 containers of frozen durian to China, the highest amount since 2015. Each container holds 7,000 durians. Kanjana added, “There is still a huge opportunity for Thai durian in China because the fruit is now well known and popular in 10 cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, Shenzhen and Guangzhou."
To gain greater access to Chinese customers, the company recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Beijing Jingdong Century Trade Co, the operator of JD.com, to buy durian from Queen Frozen Fruit to sell via JD in China. The MoU covers fresh durian, frozen durian and processed durian for JD. Frozen durian products supplied to JD are under the Peacock brand.
James Ye, President of JD Fresh under JD Group, said the company will buy more than 2,500 tonnes of both fresh and frozen durians from Thailand this year, with part of it coming from Queen Frozen Fruit. “Thai durian has become very popular among Chinese people and sales of Thai durians sold via JD.com in China 2017 increased by 4 times from 2016. In the first 4 months of this year, sales have doubled from the same period last year.” Ye claimed that there are roughly 300 million Chinese people waiting to taste Thai durians, and JD.com aims to increase import of Thai durians to China by 100 times over the next 5 years.
Queen Frozen Fruit also plans to set up a joint venture with SunMoon Distribution & Trading Pte Ltd in Singapore, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, and Xing Ye Yuan Group, a distribution company in China, to operate fruit shipments. Queen Frozen Fruit will handle supplies of Thai tropical fruits, particularly durian, while SunMoon will take care of marketing and Xing Ye, which operates a network of 12 retail chains in China - including 400 Walmart stores, 100 Sam's Clubs and 200 Carrefour outlets will look after distribution.
Queen Frozen Fruit will also invest up to Bt 800 million (US$25.1 million) to build a factory in Pathum Thani. The new factory will start producing frozen and processed durian this October. The company will also invest Bt 1 billion (US$31.4 million) to build 2 distribution centres in Chanthaburi and Chumpon.
Queen Frozen Fruit currently has 4 factories to produce Thai tropical fruits which it sells domestically as well as export to 30 countries. For durian, China represents 80% of the company's export market, with the US, Canada and others making up the rest.
At present, the company buys 200 tonnes of durian from farmers, however this is insufficient to meet the daily demand of 400 tonnes from China. As such, potential for future export growth to China is huge.