The organic pear crop from the Pacific Northwest is expected to register a significant increase this year with an estimated 1.9 million boxes.
Despite some weather challenges during the past year, the overall pear crop in the Pacific Northwest has been estimated to be up about 8 percent over 2022—though 6 percent below the five-year average. If the crop reaches its 15.2-million-box preseason estimate and organic shipments are as expected, organic production will account for 12.5 percent of the total crop, which would be the highest percentage in the past five years, though in line with previous percentages.
Ben Johnson, Founder and President, Bridges Organic Produce
Ben Johnson, Founder and President of Portland, Oregon-based Bridges Organic Produce, said the organic pear volume appears to be up, but the individual fruit is packing out a bit smaller than last year. On September 12, he told OPN Connect that the organic growers that are the source of his volume are about halfway through the harvest as they have finished up the early varieties of Starkrimson and Red Bartlett and were about to start Bosc, d’Anjou, and Comice. “They are packing out with a little bit smaller-size profile … down a size or two from last year,” he said.
Johnson relayed that growers have told him the lack of sizing occurred because of fewer degree days than a year earlier. He also noted that the bloom was delayed and that many pear orchards were hit with temperatures near 105 degrees this summer. Nonetheless, he said the weather was better than the year before when growers faced both extreme heat and snow during the active growing season.
Bridges Organic Produce Red Anjou from Columbia Gorge
But through it all growers have persisted and do have a larger crop with smaller-sized fruit, excellent quality, and opportunities for promotion. Johnson said that the volume will allow for promotions, but the industry must be mindful that growers are facing increasing labor and input costs, and the ultimate farmgate price must return a profit. “It’s always a balancing act to keep growers profitable, yet we want to promote,” Johnson said, adding that organic pears do respond well to retail promotions.
“They are packing out with a little bit smaller-size profile … down a size or two from last year.” - Ben Johnson
Brianna Shales, marketing director for Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, Washington, agreed that the organic pear crop will have sufficient supplies so that promotions should be in order. “We are starting to see promotions on organic Bartlett and red pears now that the seasons are underway,” she said. “Organic pears always benefit from promotions to help keep them turning and consumers shopping for them.”
Brianna Shales, Marketing Director, Stemilt Growers
In fact, Shales recommends bringing “organic pears into conventional ads and displays as promotion across all pears will help elevate the category.”
To encourage organic pear promotions, Stemilt offers a two-pound pouch bag of organic pears in its Lil Snappers kid-size fruit brand. “That offers a great in-and-out promotion opportunity for retailers to engage with parent consumers,” she said.
Stemilt Artisan Organics Lil Snappers
Shales said all pear varieties are showing increases over last year on the organic side, with Bartlett and d’Anjou as the leading organic varieties, followed by Bosc and red.
She also cautioned that the final packout might not reach the early estimate. “The organic share is up from last year’s 1.3 million boxes, but these are estimates, and some varieties have been picking short of estimate,” she said.
“We are starting to see promotions on organic Bartlett and red pears now that the seasons are underway. Organic pears always benefit from promotions to help keep them turning and consumers shopping for them.” - Brianna Shales
In a press release, the Pear Bureau Northwest (PBNW) did confirm that the organic crop is up this year and noted that the overall crop is of excellent quality.
“Pear growers are in full harvest mode right now handpicking a new crop of beautiful, tasty pears, starting with Bartletts and Starkrimson,” stated Kevin Moffitt, President and CEO of PBNW. “There will be a full range of sizes available, including large-sized fruit and smaller sizes to fill the popular pouch bags as well as sizes to fulfill export market demand. Our team has been working hard to initiate innovative and effective promotions to get the season off to a good start. Retailers are engaged and optimistic about the pear season.”
Kevin Moffitt, President and CEO, PBNW
While PBNW will be aggressively promoting the pear category, PBNW's Marketing Communications Manager Jim Morris revealed to OPN Connect that there will not be specific promotions for organic pears. “There is definitely a promotable supply of organic pears,” he said. “However, we will not be collecting assessments for organic this year and therefore won’t be conducting promotions for organic.”
Almost a decade ago, organic producers were given the right to opt out of paying assessment for commodity promotion activities in any marketing order administered by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Northwest organic pear producers have been involved in past years but apparently opted out for this year.
“Pear growers are in full harvest mode right now handpicking a new crop of beautiful, tasty pears, starting with Bartletts and Starkrimson. … Retailers are engaged and optimistic about the pear season.” - Kevin Moffitt
Morris noted that the percentage of organic pear production as related to the Northwest pear crop has been in the 11 to 12 percent range for the past five years.
Johnson of Bridges Produce agreed that organic pear production has plateaued in that period. He said it takes about eight years for a newly planted pear orchard to produce its first commercial crop. This is a limiting factor to entry into the business.
Bridges Organic Produce Comice pears
On the other hand, Johnson remarked that while growth in the entire organic category has seemingly hit a leveling off period, the overall increases in sales are amazing. “I’ve been in the organic produce business for 30 years,” he said, “and back then I would have never imagined we would reach the volume levels we are at today.”