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JD.com to spend over $900m on Thai fruit amid Alibaba food fight

China's archrival e-tailers target fresh produce as new source of growth

Harvesting durians in Thailand's Chanthaburi Province: JD.com intends to import large quantities of the popular fruit.

DALIAN -- JD.com, China's second-largest online retailer, plans to invest about 6.5 billion yuan ($965.8 million) in Thailand over the next three years to boost its fresh food business.

The company said early this month that it intends to import huge quantities of durian and other fruits that are popular in China, in a partnership with Chinese supermarket chain Yonghui Superstores. JD.com is pushing back against top e-tailer Alibaba Group Holding, which is also stepping up its offerings of fresh groceries.

JD.com and Yonghui will source fruits from Thailand worth 5 billion yuan, mainly durians, mangosteens and coconuts. On its own, the online retailer will also buy 1.5 billion yuan worth of fruits through Thai trading houses and other companies.

In addition to its website, JD.com plans to sell the produce offline at its 7Fresh directly run supermarkets.

Fresh food is regarded as difficult to sell online due to its short sell-by date. But JD.com has been building a cold chain -- a supply chain that keeps perishables at low temperatures -- in 300 cities across China. It has also secured access to more supermarkets that can store fresh food.

JD.com and Alibaba dominate China's online market, together accounting for about an 80% share. But as growth is slowing in China, they see fresh food as an opportunity to expand their scope.

According to Chinese research firm AskCI Consulting, the country's fruit imports totaled $8.4 billion in 2018, up 35% from a year earlier. Imports from Southeast Asia are particularly brisk, as the region is regarded as a source of high-quality produce.

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