Spike in online durian sales, say sellers

Mire Chai (left) and Jason Koh.

KUALA LUMPUR: Less than four months ago, Jason Koh and Mire Chai started a durian business with no durians. Today, they still start their day without a single fruit in their possession.

But the two owners of 4Leaf Durian have been enjoying brisk online sales of durians since the movement control order (MCO) came into force on March 18.

Koh and Chai, both 25, started their business in February after noticing a gap between traditional durian sellers and the online marketplace.

They sell durian flesh instead of whole fruits because this allows them to ensure quality.

“If you sell the whole fruits, you may face a situation where people are unhappy with what’s inside and want to exchange them,” said Chai. “Logistical demands make this impractical.”

They get their supplies from a network of traditional durian sellers.

When they started the business, they would sell just a few of their 300 gramme packs of durian flesh per day and sometimes none at all.

“Since the MCO, we’ve been selling between 70 and 100 packs per day,” said Koh.

“When we started, we did the deliveries ourselves, but due to the demand, we’ve had to outsource to delivery services.”

Koh said their operation had a certain edge over food delivery services that also sell durians through their apps.

“With food delivery services, there is a limit to the delivery range and the traditional sellers have to share their profits. With us, they get the full prices for their fruits and we can also interact with customers, which gives them confidence in our service.”

But with MCO restrictions easing, sales are slowing down.

“Most people will go back to the old way of enjoying durians, sitting at a table, opening the fruits and digging in,” said Chai.

But, Koh and Chai believe that the online sale of durians is a growing trend and will be big in five to 10 years’ time.

“Any business now must have online and brick-and-mortar elements,” said Koh, adding that this was why they planned to open a physical store in time.

Erik Ong (right) weighs durian flesh to be packed and delivered to customers.

Erik Ong, who owns and operates the popular Durian King stall in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, has also seen an increase in online sales.

Prior to the MCO, Ong’s stall would be patronised by hundreds of people per day and the demand for his fruits has continued to be high after the restrictions kicked in.

He has had two years of preparation for the online sales, and this has paid off. Like Koh and Chai, he sells 300 gram packs of durian flesh. He has been selling as much as he used to before the MCO period.

“We sell fresh durians, and we can get our supply because we applied for permission from the government as part of the food supply chain,” he said.

His fruits come from Pahang and Negeri Sembilan.

Durian King workers receive a fresh batch of durians.

“The challenge is logistics,” he said. “Depending on the location, sometimes the delivery fee can come up to half the price of the fruits.”

But he said people were willing to pay a premium for durians.

“I think durians are just addictive. The longer you don’t eat it, the more you crave it. We’ve had one customer ordering 30 packs at one go.

“But people still prefer to come out and eat durians, sharing the fruit with friends. I foresee that once things return to normal, online sales will contribute only 20% to overall sales.”

Already, he said, people had begun stopping by his stall to buy the fruits themselves.

“I would say that online sales are seasonal and only because of the MCO,” he said. “Young customers may be the ones ordering online.

“We will continue to promote online sales, but our stall operations will still be our main focus.”

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