Demand for durians still strong in Singapore amid pandemic

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Singaporeans are still lapping up Musang King durian in the middle of an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images.)

SINGAPORE — We’re in the thick of the current durian season, which began in late May. Despite unfavourable weather in Malaysia affecting durian harvests, and an economic downturn in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for the thorny fruit among Singaporeans remains as strong as ever, according to Kelvin Tan, co-owner of popular durian shop 99 Old Trees.

Kelvin is one of the most knowledgeable people about durians that we know (check out his blog article about the fascinating history of the rise of the mao shan wang durian.) Yahoo Lifestyle SEA spoke to him to get the rundown on the current market conditions. Kelvin shared his assessment of the quality of the durian supply, as well as the average pricing for the beloved mao shan wang, or musang king durian, this season.

How long will the current durian season last?

It started some time in late May. It will probably last until somewhere in mid-September, but there will be a slight dip in supply in August, then the supply will pick up again in August. Certain parts of Malaysia fruit at different timings, so the season stretches for a longer period of time.

What is the quality and supply of durians this season?

The quality was quite bad in the beginning. Most durian stalls reported upwards of a 50% rejection rate. Mostly it was due to too much rain or too little rain. Durians are very sensitive. Too much rain, and you will get a lot of underripe durians. If there’s too little rain, it also causes a lot of problems – there’ll be cases of black seeds or “burnt” seeds”; the fruit will be underdeveloped.

The quality has improved significantly, though. Prices are still holding up high because there’s a lack of supply in Pahang.

Photo taken in December 2019 of Kelvin Tan, co-owner of 99 Old Trees, with his durian parody of the US$120,000 artwork Comedian by Maurizio Cattelan. (Photo: Catherine Lai/AFP via Getty Images)

What kind of weather is good for durians?

Durians need just enough rain and plenty of sunshine. When durian trees are fruiting, you want the rainfall to be consistent, maybe once in five to six days, or once in 10 days. Towards the ripening stage, you want it to be as hot as possible with very little rain. The weather is unpredictable and may be different in different parts of Malaysia, so some farms may have better harvests than other farms.

What is the current price of durians?

Prices for mao shan wang this season range from S$19 to S$22 per kg on average. The prices are somewhat higher than during the same period last year, mostly because the harvest isn’t so good. The useable fruits are a lot fewer than what we saw last season. So since the supply went down, and demand remains the same, the price will surely go up. This season, we’re seeing a lot more demand as well.

Why is the demand for durians higher this season?

I don’t know. People seem to be buying more durians than during the same period last year. Maybe because people can’t go for holidays (due to COVID-19 travel restrictions), so they have more disposable income. That’s my guess, lah. We’ve been selling 500-600kg of durians a day.

Are customers mostly buying mao shan wang durians?

The demand for mao shan wang is still the highest among the different varieties. Mao shan wang is sometimes a bit overrated. For sellers like us, we sometimes find it a bit expensive. But customers recognise the durian and keep asking for it. We also sell D13, Golden Phoenix, S17, Tekka and D24 if it’s in season, but in much lower quantities than mao shan wang.

Has the demand for durians from China in recent years affected durian prices?

For the past three to four years, the demand from China has been building up. It’s a vast country. The per capita consumption of China is definitely still way, way, way smaller than Singapore, but because of the sheer numbers, it definitely will cause an impact in the durian industry.

The supply has been slow to catch up because new farms take at least five to six years to mature and bear fruit. So in the short term, we will see demand pressure from China, which will inevitably push the price up.

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