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When talking about local fruits, many Malaysians would default to the usual names like durian, mangosteen, and rambutan. But one crop that commonly gets left out is dragon fruit.

Despite not being native to the country, it’s a fruit that the people of Sepang are more than familiar with. The township has about 181.45ha of dragon fruit farms based on The Star’s report last year. 

And one of the more notable ones is HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm, which sports a Guinness World Record for its large dragon fruit structure.

A record-holder in more than one way

“We aimed to build a landmark in Sepang because dragon fruit is very well known here, but we didn’t have a structure to represent it,” Eugene Chia, the eco farm’s managing director, told us while we dined at its in-house restaurant.

Eugene Chia, HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm’s managing director / Image Credit: Vulcan Post

To rectify this, they built “Malaysia’s Largest Dragon Fruit Shaped Structure” in 2020. A year later, it was awarded by The Malaysia Book of Records, followed by the Guinness World Record in late 2023.

Standing at over 9m tall, the structure was erected in hopes of boosting the local tourism industry. And so far, it seems to be working.

On most weekends and public holidays, you’ll find tourist buses and families driving up HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm’s gravel roads. Many of them are part of private agency-based tour groups and visit the farm for its agrotourism activities.

There, you can personally take part in dragon fruit planting and harvesting. Some of its tourism packages even allow you to help pollinate the fruit’s flowers which only bloom at night. 

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

It’s not a revolutionary offering per se, as other fruit farmers in Malaysia have leveraged this to expand their businesses. Just look at how those in Cameron Highlands market their strawberry-picking activities.

But in Sepang, you could say that HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm is pioneering this business model.

Building a community network of farmers

Although only in his late-20s, Eugene, who is the youngest child of three, has been in the family business for years. Even before officially joining the company in 2020, he was already helping out part-time during his studies.

Hence, he’s been paying attention to what the other farmers in the area offer. 

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

He found that many of them focus more on the plantation itself without delving too much into the agrotourism sector. This makes the fresh fruit’s market competition quite tight at times.

So to set the brand apart, Eugene and his family introduced agrotourism at HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm. Part of this includes collaborating with other local businesses like cafes to promote each other during the packaged tours. 

The brand also partners with other dragon fruit sellers in the area by buying their supplies. In other words, the eco farm has created a network that serves the local community.

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

Aside from that, Eugene explained that they work with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to conduct research on growing higher quality fruits. Afterwards, they’ll have sharing sessions with local farmers to spread their learnings.

Sometimes, if farmers in the area need help with selling their crops, Eugene and his team would assist in marketing them. While we were there, we found them selling durians from the orchards of others.

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

Thinking like a businessman

One reason HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm runs more like a business than a plantation is because it’s helmed by a businessman.

Eugene’s father, Sam Chia, was previously running his own construction company. Then he left that behind in search of greener pastures and founded this dragon fruit business with his wife, Lydia Goh Siew Lan, in 2014. 

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

Together, their mindset since the start was to look at it as more than just a plantation. This spirit was passed onto Eugene and his two elder sisters who are actively involved in the eco farm too. 

When the pandemic happened, it gave way for them to further tap into being innovators in the market. 

“If we just do farming, the price is determined by the market. We can’t control it. So we wanted to do something special then we came up with these new [processed dragon fruit] products that don’t have that much competition,” Eugene shared.

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

For example, the brand creates dragon fruit enzymes that can be mixed with beverages (RM58) or made into soup (RM18). They also turned dragon fruit flowers into ready-to-eat sambal sauce (RM18).

To try these products before purchasing, visitors can dine at their in-house restaurant that serves a variety of dragon fruit-based food. Some must-try signature dishes include its Dragon Fruit Curry Bun (RM30 for M size), Dragon Fruit Nasi Lemak (RM18.90), and Braised Dragon Fruit Ginger Seafood Noodle (RM25.90).

All the dishes have some used dragon fruit in one way or another. The colour might look shocking but the food was pleasantly delicious. / Image Credit: Vulcan Post

Growing means having to innovate

While speaking to Eugene, we learnt that his family has much bigger ambitions for the brand, although these plans cannot be publicly revealed yet. For a teaser, the business will be growing its agrotourism vertical. 

Currently, they’re continuing R&D to create new products like their Dried Dragon Fruit Slices (RM14.90 per pack). This is how HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm plans on making a global name for itself.

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

“We’re working with the ministry and universities [like Universiti Putra Malaysia] to come up with these,” Eugene explained. “Hopefully, we can distribute [and export] them everywhere and the world will know us.”

So far, it’s been about a decade since HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm first started and business continues to grow. But this doesn’t come without its own set of hurdles, of course.

Being a family business has its challenges at times, particularly when two different generations are in the mix. How they make it work is by coming together to discuss ideas and decisions, respecting and learning from each other. 

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

“Our parents are more experienced in the industry and business world. For myself, I’m someone who wants to do more innovation and create new products,” Eugene shared. His mother, who likes to cook, came up with all the restaurant’s recipes.

By harnessing each other’s passions and strengths, the brand has come a long way since the beginning. With its upcoming plans, it’s likely that we’ll be hearing some big expansions soon. Until then, though, I’m personally content with visiting the farm again to try its agrotourism activities.

  • Learn more about HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: HL Dragon Fruit Eco Farm

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)