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In Dubai, some consumers are willing to pay high prices for a piece of imported fruit – Dh30 (NZD$11) or Dh360 (NZD$133.8) are possibilities.

At Oishii Nippon, a fruit shop that recently opened its doors in Dubai, prices tend to carry a decidedly premium tag, with a piece of melon from Japan costing nearly as much as 40 kilograms of red apples from Chile, according to GulfNews.com.

Located on the ground floor of Jumeirah Centre, the store sells a variety of fresh seasonal Japanese fruit, with the cheapest — an orange — costing Dh20 each as of September 5.

The most expensive, a succulent muskmelon, costs Dh360. That easily takes the cake as Japan’s most revered fruit.

A pack of Delaware grapes can also set back a shopper by as much as Dh65, while a piece of white peach or a Persimmon carry tags of Dh80 and Dh50 respectively.

Apparently, upscale customers in Dubai are willing to spend quite a bit to get a taste of these luxury fruits, with some paying anywhere between Dh200 to Dh4,000 in a single purchase. About 60% of the clientele are locals, and about 40% are Europeans.

But what’s so special about these fruits? Eri Naito, a Japanese expatriate in Dubai who occasionally buys fresh produce from Oishii Nippon, says the fruits are set apart on the basis of exceptional taste and appearance.

“Their taste is absolutely different from ordinary fruits, they’re perfectly shaped and exude natural sweetness,” Naito said. “When I visit friends, instead of bringing a bottle of wine, I’d bring these fruits as gift.”

Of course, it’s not just the taste or appearance that makes them so expensive. According to Sachiko Saito, chief ambassador of Oishii Nippon (which means “a taste of Japan”), the lavish prices reflect the intensive and refined methods used to grow their products.

The melons, for instance, undergo a strict cultivation process. Experienced farmers grow them inside a greenhouse, where humidity and temperature levels are under strict control.

Once the baby fruits sprout, farmers pick the best one and remove the rest, so only one melon grows on each vine and monopolises all the nourishment. “Unlike ordinary, everyday fruits, our products are cultivated in a special way so that customers are guaranteed they take home the perfect, damage-free, grade-A fruits,” Saito said.

She said the fruits are known the world over for their natural goodness and high “sweetness level”. “Japan’s favourable agricultural conditions, sophisticated production techniques and careful nurturing process give Japanese fruits a natural edge when it comes to quality,” said Junichi Takeuchi, director at the Export Promotion Office of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), in a press statement.

Incidentally, it was MAFF that launched Oishii Nippon in Dubai last September as part of a major initiative to promote premium Japanese food products in the Arab region. Saito says the goal is not just to make money, but to spread awareness about the agricultural products as well as their culture of giving fruit as a gift.

Although Oishii Nippon has had some slow days, Saito sees rising demand for luxury fruits in Dubai. “Once they get to know the quality of Japanese fruits, customers are willing to spend money, although prices are steep,” Saito said.

As of last month, 70% of the purchases at Oishii Nippon were for personal consumption. “These are not just for individual or personal consumption,” Saito added.

“These fruits can make for excellent gifts. In fact, it’s part of our culture to give fruits as gifts. When you’re invited to a dinner, for instance, it’s customary to bring fruits.”

Given its low levels of agricultural production, the UAE imports the vast majority of its fruit supplies.

At the retail level, for instance, LuLu Hypermarkets sources 90% of its fresh produce from the Philippines, Thailand, the US, Europe and even neighbouring GCC markets.

Another supermarket operator, the Al Maya Group, brings in apples from New Zealand and the US, bananas from the Philippines and oranges from South Africa.

Another major retailer said it intends to sell around 150,000 kilograms of different varieties of fruit at its supermarkets in the UAE. — Source: GulfNews

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