Economic Watch: China's durian fever spreads to snacks, milk tea and even hotpots

INSIDE a factory in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, workers are racing against time to pack durian-stuffed cakes, so that these snacks maintain the distinct sulfurous aroma of durians, often likened to a blend of socks and rotting onions.

The factory belongs to Guangxi Xuan Ma Food Co., Ltd., a company specializing in packed snacks. In recent years, pastries made from Southeast Asian durians have become its bestsellers.

"We take orders on e-commerce platforms, bake the cakes and deliver them within a day, so the cakes can retain the iconic aroma of the durian pulp," said Tang Chunlong, vice general manager of the company based in Nanning, capital of Guangxi.

China is the world's top consumer of durians, known for its pungent smell and luscious taste. Since last year, the country's durian fervor has seen a surge, fueled by the influx of durians from Vietnam and the Philippines, which gained market access to China under the framework of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

As the thorny fruits conquer store shelves across China, businesses like Xuan Ma are expanding their reach into new markets by developing new snacks and beverages made from durians.

The Guangxi-based company launched durian-flavored cakes in 2019, with annual sales skyrocketing from 800,000 yuan (about 110,000 U.S. dollars) to over 10 million yuan since then. The company now consumes about 1 million yuan worth of durian pulp imported from Thailand a year.

"People's obsession with durian has expanded into durian-flavored pastry and beverages, which will drive up demand for durian fruits imported from ASEAN countries," Tang said, adding that the company plans to replicate the durian business success by creating snacks inspired by other tropical fruits from Southeast Asia.

Other businesses are also capitalizing on the trend of culinary fusion by incorporating durian pulp as a bold ingredient in their gastronomic creations.

"Milk tea with durian pulp is our hottest-selling product," said Jariya Unthong, the Thai owner of a street stall selling Thai milk tea in Nanning. "Customers would normally have to queue for over half an hour to get one."

Some of the most daring durian recipes are found in eateries. Several high-end restaurants in Guangxi have rolled out hotpots with durian and chicken soup to immense market success.

"Since its debut earlier this year, our chicken durian hotpot has consistently remained among our top three most popular dishes," said Pang Jie, the owner of a hotpot restaurant. "We prefer Monthong durian from Thailand because of its sweet and buttery taste. Plus, it's got the brand recognition among picky urbanites."

"Many customers have come for a novel experience, but some eventually became loyal fans of the dish," he said.

Official data showed that in 2023, China imported 1.43 million tonnes of fresh durians, with 929,000 tonnes from Thailand and 493,000 tonnes from Vietnam.

"As a bit of a latecomer to the country's vast expanse of food processing landscape, durian has what it takes to be front and center in China. The demand for both the fruit and its processed products will continue to rise," said Niti Pratoomvongsa, director of the commercial office of the Royal Thai Consulate General in Nanning. - XInhua

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China , economic watch , durian fever


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