Pear-shaped business plan reaps fruit of success

HEBEI, China (Reuters) - Craving a slice of immortality? A Chinese farmer is taking a leaf out of a Chinese classic about eternal life and growing pears shaped like babies, hoping his unusual idea will get his business blooming.

In the classic novel “Journey to the West,” an imaginary fruit in the shape of a baby makes all who eat it live forever.

Farmer Hao Xianzhang, who owns an orchard in northern Hebei province, is turning fiction into fact by attaching baby-shaped fiberglass and plastic moulds to young pears for six months.

“People called me crazy. They said I was whimsical and it was impossible to grow baby-shaped fruits. They told me to stop wasting my time and money,” said Hao, who has sold nearly all the 18,000 pears he has cultivated for a hefty 50 yuan ($7) a piece.

The idea to shape pears first struck Hao some six years ago, when he saw jelly molded into different forms at a supermarket.

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Keen to standing out in the crowded fruit market, Hao kept working with different moulds until he struck upon the perfect one. News of his first successful harvest attracted hordes of visitors -- and buyers -- to the orchard.

“My boss sent me over to see if it’s true. Now I see it’s really true and it’s really amazing. We will order some for our store,” said 21-year-old Hao Zhonghua, who works for a supermarket in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang.

Hao said he has already received orders for some 70,000-80,000 pieces of fruit for next year.

He also hopes to export his fruit overseas and won’t be limiting himself to babies -- Hao said he hopes to cater to Western tastes by growing pears in the shape of Biblical characters and screen legend Charlie Chaplin.

($1=6.827 Yuan)

Reporting by Hanna Rantala and Beijing Newsroom, editing by Miral Fahmy