The Exotic Entrepreneur

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

Dragon Fruit | Photo by Tricia A. Mitchell

Airplane turbulence is never a pleasant experience. Despite flying in a large Boeing 777 on a recent trip to Southeast Asia, the thermodynamics over the Straits of Malacca ensured that my coffee cup needed a lid all the way to Singapore. As the plane rolled to a stop and my world stopped shaking, I looked at my wife, smiled, and allowed myself to finally exhale.

The airplane door opened, offering a rush of fresh air and humidity. Having been dressed for autumn in Germany, my clothes began to feel like lead blankets as we exited the plane into Singapore’s perpetual summer.

After passing through a friendly and efficient border control, we shook off our jet-lag and entered Singapore’s metro network. The train cars were pristine. In a country where it is illegal to possess chewing gum and caning is a legal form of corporal punishment, the people have a strong incentive to keep things clean.

The monorail train quickly reached our destination and we stepped out into the streets. Suddenly, we noticed the food. Exotic smells and sights captured our attention around every corner.

It is no wonder. Singapore is strategically situated in the middle of 40% of the world’s international trade, offering the locals a wide variety of unique spices and produce that have been incorporated into the local cuisine.

The fruit, in particular, tested the limits of our imagination. Having never seen some of these foods before, I realized that there is a disequilibrium between Western and Asian fruit markets.

“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. Slice it open and you will find it to be either white or purple with little black seeds.
“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” | Unlike the Cavendish species common to most supermarkets in the West, Lady Finger Bananas 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.

In the next few years, if trade protectionism is kept under control, oil prices don’t skyrocket, and refrigeration technology advances, we can probably expect consumer demand for exotic fruit to increase. Entrepreneurs who spot and act upon disequilibriums in supply and demand for novel foods like exotic fruit 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 made up primarily of water, making it excessively 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.

Certainly more research on the world’s exotic fruit disequilibrium is warranted. However, after having tasted the novel fruits of Southeast Asia, I would definitely be a customer — if the price was right.

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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