Demand for lemons surges as Chinese seek immunity against Covid-19

A surge in demand has more than doubled the prices of lemon and other flu-fighting fruits in China in recent days. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ANYUE, Sichuan – Business is suddenly booming for China’s lemon farmers as citizens turn to natural remedies to fight a mounting wave of Covid-19 infections.

“The market is very much on fire,” said one farmer called Wen, who only gave his surname when reached by phone.

Mr Wen grows lemons on about 53ha in Anyue, a county in the south-western province of Sichuan that produces around 70 per cent of the fruit in China. He said his sales have skyrocketed to 20 to 30 tonnes a day over the past week, from just 5 or 6 tonnes previously.

The surge in demand for Mr Wen’s lemons is coming from cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where people are rushing to buy foods rich in vitamin C to boost their immunity in the latest battle against the pandemic.

As cold and flu medicines run short, it’s yet another example of how an unprepared public is being forced to contend with the government’s abrupt shift away from the zero-Covid policies that have ruled for the past three years.

“Lemon prices have doubled in the past four or five days,” said another farmer in Anyue, who goes by the name Liu Yanjing.

Mr Liu said he is working 14 hours a day to deal with the orders flying in from all over China. Prior to the latest surge, lemons were selling for 2 to 3 yuan (S$0.39 to S$0.58) per half kilo. Now, they’re 6 yuan, he said.

Sales of other fruits, including oranges and pears, are also soaring on Dingdong Maicai, an e-commerce platform selling fresh produce, according to local media.

Canned yellow peaches are another item in demand, as some Chinese believe that the cold and sweet fruit can improve the appetite, especially when you’re sick.

Sales of the product at Freshippo, a grocery chain owned by Alibaba Group Holding, have risen nearly 900 per cent, according to one report.

In November, China’s fruit and vegetable farmers were fretting over tonnes of fresh produce that were piling up because of the effect of the country’s stringent virus curbs on transportation.

The price of lemons in the villages of Anyue fell to almost nothing as stockpiles built with no domestic or export markets to sell to, leading to heavy losses for farmers, according to Mr Wen. That’s now all changed.

“It seems people have suddenly realised lemons are good,” said his fellow farmer Mr Liu. “I hope the awareness will last.” BLOOMBERG

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