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A pear industry task force is looking at how the Pear Bureau Northwest might coordinate its domestic pear promotions with the companies supplying the pears.

The Pear Bureau works with 200 retailers around the United States to set up generic promotions for U.S. pears, leaving it up to the retailers to secure their own supplies. But during a strategic planning retreat in January, pear industry representatives discussed how the Pear Bureau might work more closely with the shipping organizations that are also running pear promotions.

“There seemed to be a lot of concern that the industry could work better together, but it would require some changes in how we’re doing our promotions right now,” said Kevin Moffitt, Pear Bureau president. “There were discussions on everything from lowering the assessment rate or giving some back to the sales groups. We looked at a lot of ­radical potential options.”

Although the Pacific Northwest pear industry is somewhat splintered, with producers in four growing districts in Washington and Oregon, the sales agencies have been consolidating, concentrating most of the supplies in just a few hands, Moffitt said.

“There are some big groups who are controlling a lot of volume, and they’re working with retailers in a different way than they were several years ago.”

Assessment

This is an issue that the apple industry has also faced. Following a lawsuit challenging the legality of its mandatory assessments in 2003, the Washington Apple Commission downsized and no longer promotes apples on the domestic market. Apple producers pay an assessment of 3.5 cents per box, which is used primarily for export promotions, down from 25 cents a box previously.

Pear growers pay total assessments of 50 cents a box on winter pears, of which 44 cents pay for the Pear Bureau’s advertising and promotions. The rest goes to research and operating expenses. On summer pears, such as Bartletts, growers pay 36.6 cents, of which 30 cents go to advertising and promotions.

Representatives of the ten largest pear sales organization in the Northwest, which together sell more than 90 percent of the pears in the Northwest, were invited to another strategic planning meeting held in conjunction with the Pear Bureau’s annual meeting in June. Those companies are: Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Washington; Columbia Marketing International, Wenatchee, Washington; Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Washington; Duckwall-Pooley Fruit Company, Odell, Oregon; Northern Fruit Company, Wenatchee; Oneonta Trading Corporation, Wenatchee; Rainier Fruit Company, Yakima; Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee; Washington Fruit and Produce Company, Yakima; and Yakima Fresh. Two smaller sales organizations from Medford, Oregon, and a number of growers also took part.

A task force was formed to look at Pear Bureau policies in the light of changes that have been happening in the industry. The task force has three marketer members (Mike Taylor at Stemilt, Randy Abhold at Rainier, and Rob Peterson at Duckwall-Pooley) and three grower members (Bryon McDougall from Wenatchee, Ray Schmitten from Cashmere, and Ron Rivers from Hood River).

Synergy

Taylor said the primary goal is to find an efficient way for the Pear Bureau and the sales and marketing desks to work together to create more synergy with their promotional activities, resulting in improved results and potential savings.

Many of the large, integrated marketers are full-service providers who offer a wide range of products along with pears, apples, cherries, and other fruits. Many have their own field representatives and are promoting their brand, rather than a specific product, whereas the Pear Bureau is promoting pears generically.

There are things the Pear Bureau can do that private marketers can’t do, and things that private marketers can do that the Pear Bureau can’t, Taylor said. For example, a marketer might want to focus its promotions on parts of its manifest that it wants to move at a particular time, such as green d’Anjous, whereas the Pear Bureau is promoting all varieties on behalf of the whole industry.

The Pear Bureau has done an excellent job of promoting pears for the industry, he added, but how they go forward will be the topic for discussion. “This is a great opportunity for the Pear Bureau to be really proactive and make some changes in their program. It’s an evolution.”

Moffitt said the task force’s focus would be on domestic promotions. Discussions during the strategic planning retreat indicated that the Pear Bureau’s export, communications, public relations, and consumer outreach programs are on track. “It isn’t an overall ‘Let’s tear down the Pear Bureau,’” Moffitt said. “It’s ‘Let’s take a hard look at the domestic side where things have changed and figure out how we can work with that change.’

“We still want to make sure we’re representing the growers’ best interest and not representing one particular sales organization’s fruit over another, but at the same time, we really need to figure out the best way to coordinate activities,” he added. “We’re looking at it in a very positive light.”

Moffitt said the task force planned to meet in August and hopes to make ­recommendations by January 2011.