Bumper harvest and cheap durians see fans queueing at stalls across Singapore

SINGAPORE, June 26 (The Straits Times/ANN): A small fruit stall called Wang Sheng Li opposite Bishan bus interchange was packed on Saturday (June 25) evening, with most customers picking the best durians from a selection piled high on makeshift tables.

More than 10 people were queueing with baskets of their choice finds to have the fruit removed from the shell and packed in styrofoam containers.

Similar scenes have been seen around the island over the past two weekends because of a bumper crop and cheap prices. The current season, which typically lasts from May to August, sees the year's biggest harvests from Johor and Pahang farms that supply most of the fruit sold here.

Despite reports earlier this month that prices would go up because of bad weather and rising labour and fertiliser costs, the opposite has turned out to be the case.

While prices of top grade durians like Mao Shan Wang weighing 1.5 to 2kg each have held steady at about S$20 to S$25 a kg, many stalls had been touting smaller specimens of varieties like D24 and even Mao Shan Wang for under S$10 each.

Some sellers said they are puzzled over what gave rise to the earlier reports.

Said Jonathan Tee, owner of Durian Story in Serangoon North: "There were rumours that there would be fewer durians this year, but it turned out to be a boom instead. But I think it is just a flash and supplies will go back to normal this coming week."

He attributed the deluge of small durians to profuse flowering in the Johor farms. "Having a lot of flowers meant that some fruit did not get enough nutrients and could not grow bigger," he said.

The manager of Durian Culture in Sims Avenue, who wanted to be known as Ms Lim, said she had always known this year's crop would be good because of the lush flowering. She added that except for Grade A Mao Shan Wang, prices of other durians which include Red Prawn and D24 have dropped by about 30 per cent.

She has another reason for the unusually large number of small fruit.

"In 2015, there was a durian shortage and farmers in Johor cleared a lot of land to plant the fruit. Durian trees start fruiting after seven years so this is the first harvest for these farms. But the fruit would tend to be small and the quality would not be very good. It will get better in a few years," she said.

Tee pointed out that even if the quality matches that of the bigger fruit, it might not be cheaper if you look beyond the sticker price.

"A 1kg Grade C Mao Shan Wang selling for $12 may have only three seeds, which works out to be $4 each. But a 2kg Grade A fruit selling for $24 may have 10 seeds, which means it is only $2.40 each," he said.

Durians are graded according to size and quality, with A being the biggest at 1.5 to 2kg.

Still, both Ms Lim and Tee noted that the cheap durians are a crowd-puller for many stalls and provide customers with options, though their regulars prefer the better-quality ones.

Steven Tan, manager of the 919 Fruit Trading outlet in Ang Mo Kio Central, said that while Grade A Mao Shan Wang remains the bestseller at $25 a kg, the Grade C ones that sold for $10 each as well as Red Prawn that sold for $6 to $10 each are brisk sellers too.

By 5pm last Saturday, only about 10 baskets were left of the 50 ferried in from Malaysia that day. Each basket holds 50kg of fruit.

He said: "We made money from those through high volume sales, but it meant more work for us. But we try to clear our stock every day because durians cannot keep."

Durian fan Eileen Yap was among those queueing at the Wang Shang Li stall last Saturday. It was the 40-year-old accountant's third time patronising the outlet this season, making the trip with her husband from Punggol.

"The quality of the fruit sold here is fantastic," she said. "Also, prices are cheap now. They can be almost double in other times."

Her haul of four Black Thorn and four Black Gold durians cost $225. "I wanted Mao Shan Wang too but they were sold out," she lamented. - The Straits Times/ANN

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