Durian prices up as bad weather hits harvest and labour, fertiliser costs rise

Customers at the Durian 36 stall in Geylang. The durian season started this month and is expected to run till September. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - He was not keen on increasing durian prices, but Mr Zen Ho, the founder of Durian Empire, has been forced to charge more for the "king of fruits" this season.

The price of Malaysia's musang king durians at Punggol's Durian Empire was between $15 and $18 per kg pre-pandemic, but Mr Ho estimates that the variety will cost anywhere between $20 and $25 per kg now.

Mr Ho, 39, said: "The cost price of durians is higher than last season because harvest is poorer this year.

"The season is getting longer and the harvest is spread out over a longer period. We need stamina to still be in the game."

The durian season started in June and is expected to run till September.

Singapore gets 89 per cent of its durians from Malaysia, with the rest coming from Thailand and the Philippines, according to the Singapore Food Agency in 2020.

Malaysian newspaper The Star in February and May projected durian prices to be 40 per cent higher now than last year due to rising fertiliser and labour prices, and bad weather impacting the pollination of durian flowers.

Mr Wong Hua Chian, the owner of Malaysian supplier Pochi Durian Trading, based in Johor, said prices have gone up due to bad weather in March, which led to only 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the crop bearing fruit.

Demand from China, Hong Kong and Europe has further limited supply.

The company supplies durians to seven Singapore sellers, and Mr Wong, 36, said: "We must strike a balance between China's and Singapore's demands as it all depends on market forces and who will buy the durian at a more competitive price."

Mr Teoh See Yong, who operates fruit stall Durian 36 in Geylang, said his Malaysian suppliers have told him that prices have gone up due to a shortage of foreign labour and increase in fertiliser costs.

For premium durian varieties from Malaysia such as musang king and black thorn, the prices are expected to double this season.

Most durian lovers here prefer the Malaysian varieties. Mr Teoh, 37, said: "Malaysian durians have a strong and pungent aroma as they fall naturally from the tree as opposed to Thailand's durians being cut off from the tree.

"Singaporeans prefer the natural, pungent aroma of Malaysian durians than the milder aroma of Thai durians."

Mr Teoh See Yong's suppliers said that prices have gone up due to a shortage of foreign labour and increase in fertiliser costs. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

To get their fix, some Singaporeans are booking durian tours to Malaysia.

Transtar Travel has been marketing durian trips to Yong Peng, Johor, since May 19. It has 50 confirmed bookings for one-day trips in the peak months of June and July.

Branch manager Ng Swee Khwan, 41, said: "Such tours could become more popular as the durian season peaks in July, with more people keen to get out and travel."

She added: "Also, during the (Covid-19) pandemic, so many could not travel. Now that the borders have opened up, people are looking forward to going on a trip."

Long-time durian lover Tng Meng Hua is unfazed at the price hike, though.

He was eating a durian dessert at 99 Old Trees, a durian dessert and fruit shop in Outram Park which has been operating for four years.

He loves the musang king and black thorn varieties from Malaysia, and is willing to pay more for them.

"My preference has not changed much, and as long as I find them delicious, I will continue to eat them," the 52-year-old, who works in printing, said.

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