BEIJING • Malaysian durians have topped fruit and vegetable presales at a big Chinese retail festival, showing the pulling power of the pungent delicacy.
The top-selling variety at JD.com's 618 festival - China's second-largest shopping event after Alibaba's Singles' Day - was the Sultan durian from Pahang, according to local media that cited data from the e-commerce giant.
Sales have even exceeded those of ice cream and peaches.
With its creamy custard-like flesh and powerful odour, the thorny fruit has surged in popularity in China.
Fresh durian imports quadrupled to US$2.3 billion (S$3 billion) last year from 2017, according to United Nations data, and they overtook cherries to become the country's No. 1 fruit import by value in 2019.
Malaysia used to send its durians to China only as pulp and paste but won approval to export frozen fruit in 2019.
Though "DurioTourism" - where Chinese tourists visit Malaysian farms - is currently at a halt due to coronavirus travel restrictions, durian diplomacy is still going strong.
MAPC, Malaysia's largest durian supplier that exports about 90 per cent of its fruit to China, has set up seven centres to promote the Musang King variety in second-and third-tier Chinese cities over the past year.
It will add another 15 this year to lure more consumers, and offer free samples, said Mr Sam Tan, the company's executive director who is also president of the Malaysia Durian Exporters Association.
"Less than 10 per cent of China's population has ever tasted Malaysian durians," he said.
"With more farmers joining the industry, our supply is expected to expand at least 50 per cent a year."