It is no secret that retail sales of conventional pears are stable at best and have shown a decline in recent years. But organic pears, which have just begun shipping from the Northwest, are a growth category commanding a very nice premium for retailers and growers alike.
“The organic pear category is a real bright spot for pears,” said Dan Davis, director of business development at Starr Ranch Growers, headquartered in Wenatchee, WA. “Organic pears are still getting a very good premium of 20 to 25% at retail.”
Dan Davis, director of business development, Starr Ranch Growers
Davis calls organic green pears a “hardware” item for most retailers on a year-round basis. He added that organic red pears are a bit different because of their lack of 12-month availability but they are still a strong item that drives sales.
Starr Ranch shipped its initial organic green Bartlett pears from the Hood River district of Oregon on August 3 and said volume will increase each week throughout the month of August. As August approaches and moves into September and the fall, other varieties will join the game including green and red Anjous, Bosc, and red Bartletts.
Davis predicted that there would be promotable volume of pears from September through January. With the fruit on the trees appearing to be peaking on smaller sizes, he added that the best promotions will be with bagged fruit, which tends to feature smaller sized pears. “That seems to be what consumers are looking for during these times (of COVID),” he said, guessing that the popularity is due to the fact that fruit in bags is handled less frequently through the supply chain. “Packaged pear sales – both conventional and organic – have been up 40 percent this year.”
He said Starr Ranch has tripled its organic pear volume this season with its production expecting to represent about 10 percent of its total domestic pear shipments. The company also imports pears from South America from mid-spring to summer to offer year-round coverage for its customers.
Kevin Stennes, organic sales manager, Chelan Fresh Marketing
Kevin Stennes, organic sales manager, for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, CA, sung the same praises for the organic category. “The pear deal has been somewhat stagnant in recent years and there have been lots of industry efforts to liven up the category,” he said. “Organic pears are definitely a bright spot.”
“Packaged pear sales – both conventional and organic – have been up 40 percent this year.” -Dan Davis
Operating from orchards a bit further north, Chelan is expected to get started with Bartletts by next week (August 17) with Bosc and Anjou following suit a week or two later. Stennes was anticipating about 200,000 boxes or organic pears for his company this season, which would represent a 150 percent increase over last year. He predicted that the October/November time frame would offer the best opportunities for organic retail promotions. “By October, we will have all the organic varieties available, which will be a great time to promote.”
Chelan Fresh Bartlett pears
Chelan is expecting to have organic Bartletts into January with the Anjou and Bosc crops lasting into March. It also has organic Starkrimson red pears for the early part of the deal.
Ben Johnson of Portland, OR-based Bridges Organic Produce, which handles the organic production of several Hood River shippers, said this week that his packer-partners had just started shipping Starkrimson and would begin Bartletts next week (August 17). He said there should be promotable volume by the end of August.
Ben Johnson, Bridges Organic Produce
Bridges’ marketing strategy is to concentrate on organic Bartletts throughout September, adding other varieties to the mix as the season progresses. The company offers more than a half-dozen organic varieties throughout the domestic pear season, shipping fruit into the new year.
Johnson said that there appears to a significant increase in organic pear production this season, while the overall crop should be close to its three-year average, though he said it is unclear how recent adverse weather conditions have affected total volume. (The official estimate is expected to be released by Pear Bureau Northwest later in August.)
He said demand for organic pears continues to increase but opined that it might be a little difficult to achieve the same premium for that sector this season with the increased production. “There are a lot of unknowns this year,” Johnson said pointing to the pandemic and its impact on shopper buying patterns.
Pears are not a big foodservice item so the pandemic-inspired increase in retail sales has helped the category, according to the longtime organic salesman who started his company almost 20 years ago by representing Hood River tree fruit.
Johnson, however, said fall shopping patterns are sure to be impacted by the coronavirus and it is uncertain how that will impact the category. It appears that a lot of kids will be eating lunch at home rather than taking lunch boxes to school. That would seemingly have a significant impact on the choices made for those school kid lunches.
The USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program has created some extra demand for pears, Johnson said, which has helped the category through the summer months.
Like others, he anticipates an increased demand for bagged fruit and said the company’s organic pear packing partners are gearing up for this expectation.