Ex-air stewardess flies high in durian export business

Ms Anna Teo, nicknamed "Musang Queen" after the popular durian variety, heads Hernan Corporation. The company is today one of Malaysia's main exporters of durians and durian products.
Ms Anna Teo, nicknamed "Musang Queen" after the popular durian variety, heads Hernan Corporation. The company is today one of Malaysia's main exporters of durians and durian products.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Malaysian firm's entry into China and efforts to stand out from rivals are key to its success

PETALING JAYA • Former air stewardess Anna Teo is today one of Malaysia's largest exporters of durians, including the popular Musang King variety.

To feed the growing demand for the king of fruits in China and elsewhere, her company Hernan Corporation also exports durian puree and mochi (cakes).

Dubbed the "Musang Queen", she said she stumbled upon the opportunity to start her trading company in 1996 after she went shopping in Chinatowns in several countries but failed to find any Malaysian products.

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 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 durian delicacies such as durian puree, durian ice cream and durian mochi.

Besides doing contract farming, Hernan Corp also bought a 16.2ha 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 that she saw in Thailand to ship the durians.

She told Astro Awani news site recently that the company's annual turnover today is close to RM30 million (S$10 million).

Malaysian Agriculture Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said last year that, till 2016, the country was producing 302,000 tonnes of the fruit a year.

Hernan Corp is one of Malaysia's largest exporters of durians and Ms Teo has grand plans to take the company to still greater 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."

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'Ex-air stewardess flies high in durian export business'. Print Edition | Subscribe