Durian marketing

Suddenly everyone in China is obsessed with durian. Fancy the challenge of promoting this pungent tropical fruit globally?

I’ll start with a confession, I don’t like durian.

In marketing terms I am a rejector, neither am I a considerer (someone who may buy but doesn’t currently) and of course I am not a user.

I have my former colleagues in Malaysia to blame. I will not name and shame here as many of them keep in touch and some even deign to read this blog. Terima kasih!

When I first arrived in Malaysia I was quickly introduced to this thorny yet pungent fruit. My colleagues loved and craved its indulgence. We were selling ice cream and even had durian flavours that I had to endure for quality at Tuesday mornings’ tasting.

Later when the head of sales opined ice cream sales were down because it was durian season, I was cynical. Later, and a little wiser, I realised I was wrong.

Now durian’s popularity is growing beyond SE Asia. Over the last 2 years China imported over $6b of the fruit. Sales are sky rocketing. Last week the WSJ had a report that coffee farmers in Vietnam are switching to plant durians, not robustas.

Photo: Dave Weatherall

Growing durian is a long term bet, the trees take between 5 to 7 years to mature.

Durian love hot and humid tropical conditions. There are over 30 recognised species of which 9 produce edible fruit. They have suggestive and enticing names like Black Pearl, Red Prawn and Golden Phoenix. Musang King is one of the most popular.

It is Thailand, not Malaysia nor Vietnam nor Indonesia that is reaping the gains from Chinese demand. Many Chinese buy durian as a gift, weddings is one occasion.

Here in Japan durians are sold, but mainly online. They are a niche market, for the moment.

I don’t see that Thailand, or anyone else, has done much agri-marketing work to protect and promote their durian business. Excuse the pun but I smell an opportunity!

How would you promote a fruit that is thorny on the outside, pungent on the inside yet is an indulgent pleasure? It is a conundrum that will challenge the best marketeers.

Given there are so many varieties, I’d be inclined to see which varieties appeal most to non users. They are not all the same.

I would also want to work and protect the name, then develop a strong (maybe pungent?) brand proposition.

As for features and benefits, do you know durian have many health attributes including regulating blood pressure, higher levels of vitamin c and an amino acid called tryptophan? One of Singapore’s first class hospitals even has a webpage on the topic.

What would you do to market this king of tropical fruits outside China?

Trickier question, what would be the best route-to-market model? This is a question many of our clients ask.

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