PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A former air stewardess, Anna Teo, is today one of Malaysia's largest exporters of durians including the popular Musang King variety with its deep yellow flesh.
Apart from fresh durians, her company also exports durian puree and mochi (cakes) to feed growing demand for the king of fruits in China and elsewhere.
Dubbed the "Musang Queen", she said she stumbled upon the opportunity to start her trading company Hernan Corporation in 1996 after she went shopping in Chinatowns in several countries but failed to find any Malaysian product.
She started shipping Malaysian products to overseas stores, and set up the company while she was still working in Malaysia Airlines.
In 2004, she received a call from a Brisbane client who wanted a container load of Malaysian durians.
"I travelled from Johor to Kedah but I couldn't find a factory (that could supply the durians). I called up my client and told him 'I can't find what you want'.
"He replied 'I know, there is no one doing it, that's why I called you to do it'," she said.
Ms Teo quit the airline in 2006 to focus fully on her business.
"Back in 2008, we exported durians in fewer than 10 containers so it still didn't make much of an impact. People still did not know much about Malaysian durians," she said.
The turning point came in 2011 when her company participated in a bilateral agreement with China to pave the way for Malaysian durians to be exported to the country, where the demand for the fruit is almost insatiable.
As she saw how over 100 exporters were waiting to enter the Chinese durian market, she decided to differentiate her company by expanding her business downstream.
Her company came up with various durian delicacies such as durian puree, durian ice cream and durian mochi (cakes).
Besides doing contract farming, Hernan Corp also bought a 16.2-ha durian plantation in Raub, Pahang, for quality control. Raub is well known in Malaysia for its durians.
Her company utilises a liquid-nitrogen freezing method she saw in Thailand to ship the durians.
Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said last yeat that up to 2016, Malaysia plants durians on a total of 66,000 ha, and produces 302,000 metric tonnes of the fruit.
There are 204 types of durians registered with the Agriculture Department.
Hernan Corp is today considered Malaysia's largest exporter of durians and Ms Teo still has grand plans to bring the company to new heights.
"If you ask around, there will be other competitors from Thailand also planting Musang King. The only way we can (remain at the top) is by branding," she said.
Ms Teo credits her training as an air stewardess for giving her the confidence to succeed.
"Being air stewardesses, we are tough and can multitask," she said, joking that air stewardesses do more than just serve coffee or tea on airplanes.
"There is no other university or vocational school that gives you that kind of training where they just throw you into the deep end.
"Whether you like it or not, you have to survive in London for five days with little money," she said of her training as a stewardess.
She added that winning the Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) last year made her more motivated to push her product's brand name.
"I believe Malaysian products and durians have potential in the global markets," she said.