I’m looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing Malaysia’s fruit and vegetable business at Fresh Produce Malaysia on 15-17 March, but what is already apparent from our special report in the March/April of Asiafruit Magazine is that this market has evolved to a point where the spotlight is timely.
Only a few years ago, Malaysia’s fruit import market was often disparaged as a ‘dumping ground’ by suppliers who bemoaned buyers’ obsession with getting the lowest price. While still noting the need to trade with caution, those same suppliers are now identifying interesting opportunities for higher-quality lines in the upper end of the market. A few forces appear to be driving this change. Malaysia’s solid economic foundations have given rise to one of Asia’s most affluent populations, which, while not large, is nevertheless young, health-conscious and keen to try new imported products. Meanwhile, a phalanx of foreign-invested retail chains is reaching out to these consumers, and this ‘modern trade’ has the infrastructure and interest to bring in a broader range of produce.
As such, those suppliers who are prepared to make a concerted effort to develop the market and promote their produce are now reaping the benefits. For instance, the retail training seminars run last year by the Washington Apple Commission revealed the scope to partner with the emerging modern retail trade. Kiwifruit marketer Zespri has also made inroads over the past year with a programme of in-store and above-the-line activities, while Korean strawberries have scored similar success.
Malaysia’s own position as a supplier of fruit and vegetables to global markets also warrants fresh attention. Factors like lack of suitable farmland and higher labour costs compared with neighbouring tropical fruit-producing nations such as the Philippines or Thailand may have traditionally led big corporates to overlook Malaysia as an investment opportunity, but the growing support from government agencies for the sector has boosted prospects. Innovative new products like the Paiola papaya and premium varieties of greenhouse vegetables are putting suppliers on the right path to tap into high-end markets at home and overseas, and with the proper supply chain systems and marketing strategies in place, Malaysian produce can gain greater recognition worldwide. Fresh Produce Malaysia is a good platform to provide just that!