The Exotic Entrepreneur

A trip to East Asia reveals an agricultural disequilibrium. For some entrepreneurs, that spells money.

Airplane turbulence is never a pleasant experience. Despite flying in a large Boeing 777, the thermodynamics over the Straits of Malacca ensured that my coffee needed a lid all the way to Singapore. As the plane rolled to a stop on the tarmac and my world stopped bouncing, I finally allowed myself to exhale.

The first thing I noticed when the airplane door opened, apart from the relative freshness of the air outside compared to that in the cabin, was the heat and humidity. Still wearing the late-autumn clothes necessary in Germany when I started this journey, the stickiness of the air began to feel as though I were bound in cling wrap.

As my wife and I struggled to shake off our jet-lag and began to navigate our way beyond the Changi Airport and into the city’s metro network, the second thing I noticed was the cleanliness. Singapore is immaculate. In a country where it is illegal to possess chewing gum and caning is still a legal form of corporal punishment, you almost want to float along unnoticed and avoid touching anything.

Stepping off our monorail train and into the streets of Singapore, the third thing I noticed was the food. Exotic smells and sights captured our attention around every corner. As a city strategically situated in the middle of 40% of the world’s international trade, unique spices and agricultural products are an integral part of the cuisine. The fruit, in particular, tested the limits of our imagination.

‘Snakeskin Fruit’ | Beneath its armored, intimidating skin that resembles a rattlesnake, is a sweet, white fruit and a large seed.
‘Durian Fruit’ | This foul-smelling beast is actually a royal delicacy in the region and commands an incredibly high price. Public places in Singapore often have signs prohibiting the carrying and consumption of durian due to its ferocious hydrogen-sulfide aroma.
‘Dragon Fruit’ | This fruit is similar in texture to a kiwi. Enter the Dragon and you will find it to be either white or purple.
‘Rambutan’ | These small, furry delicacies can be found in massive piles in nearly every market. They peel relatively easily, and are great for brown-bag lunches.
‘Lady Finger Bananas, oranges and Star Apples’ | You’ll go bananas for these bananas. Unlike the Cavendish species common to most supermarkets in the West, Lady Fingers have the texture of marshmallows and are amazingly sweet. The Star Apple has a milky white texture and is an acquired taste.
‘Jackfruit’ | Tricia stands next to a gaggle of jackfruit. These behemoths can weigh up to 35 kg (80 lbs) and are filled with baseball-sized, sweet, orange nuggets.

If the protectionist trade wars over the next few years prove to be relatively mild, and if oil prices don’t skyrocket, we can expect consumer demand for exotic flavors, and fruit, to increase. Entrepreneurs who can spot and act upon disequilibriums in supply and demand for novel foods might rake a tidy profit.

However, the fruit business can be tough. Despite transoceanic shipment costs reaching record lows in recent weeks, it is still exceedingly expensive and environmentally unfriendly to move exotic fruit from one corner of the world to another. One reason is that fruit is primarily water, making it overwhelmingly heavy. Another reason is the high probability that fruit will spoil when transported over long distances.

A recent entrepreneurial profile in the German news offered a solution to these problems: dried fruit. By puréeing fruit and then drying it into sheets, an enterprising individual could export the abundance of exotic fruit from the world’s most remote corners. The only remaining question is: Will markets want to buy enough of it?

Looking for entrepreneurial inspiration? Check out Google’s recent coverage of Indonesia’s ‘Durian Guy’. This enterprising individual tapped into global demand for durian by offering it online.

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