Changes in Malaysian durian sector as COVID-19 pushes sellers online

Durian stalls have sprung to life in Malaysia’s Klang Valley, announcing the arrival of the durian season. Up north in Penang, the government is moving durian sellers into markets, barring the usual roadside stalls that beckon lines of connoisseurs at a time when large gatherings are frowned upon. Visits to durian farms in Balik Pulau are also not permitted.

In Penang, the state government has barred roadside durian stalls and moved durian sellers into markets. On Facebook, durian sellers are promoting their harvest with options to deliver right to the customers’ doorsteps. With people’s movement limited by a nationwide curb to contain the spread of COVID-19, home delivery can help overcome a drop in walk-ins.

Even when the durian season kicks into full swing in Pahang from June onwards - after the movement control order (MCO) is scheduled to end on Jun 9 - Durian Hill co-founder and marketing director Ernest Lee does not foresee many customers opting for dine-in. “We will focus on the same model during the MCO, which is more on delivery,” he said.

With consumers likely to remain cautious even though dine-in has been permitted at restaurants since early May, the glorious scenes of people crowding durian stalls and baskets of durian husks lining the stalls might not be seen this durian season.

Dong Sech Sing, the owner of Bentong Durians in Pahang, has been inundated by enquiries on the availability of durians at his orchard. Delivery to the Klang Valley used to constitute only 10 per cent of his business. His main focus was on visitors who dropped by to savour the fruits while surrounded by the 150 durian trees in the orchard.

Dong has welcomed guests from as far as China and the United States into the orchard he bought seven years ago, but with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting international and domestic travel, he is expecting a sharp drop in visitors.

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