Anticipate change. Adapt quickly. Execute. Repeat. That has been our mantra since COVID-19 has turned everyone’s lives upside down. Ever since the coronavirus hit hard in March, we have been conducting pear promotions differently, adapting to the new realities. The crisis accelerated many trends that were already happening at retail and in consumer shopping habits. In addition, retailers instituted new programs that we embraced in order to keep pears relevant and top-of-mind with consumers. 

Kevin Moffitt

While we don’t know what the new normal will be in the upcoming season, we will be building on many of our new, successful promotions and pivots while watching trends and adapting to meet new challenges and opportunities. 

Some challenges our industry faced, beginning in March, included limited or curtailed retail ad flyers, no in-store sampling and reduced number of produce items carried at retail — not to mention that consumers reduced the number of shopping trips, spending less time in stores and increasing their purchases online. 

Our biggest challenge for a high impulse-purchase item like pears, as people move to more online shopping and spend less time in stores, is how to get pears in front of shoppers. So, instead of sampling and large colorful displays in up-front locations grabbing consumers’ attention in stores, we moved to successful digital activities. One of the most effective has been paid search. When a shopper enters key words, such as fruit, into their search on an online shopping site, a pear offer pops up to the top of their search display, creating impulse sales. Banner ads on retail sites have also been effective and will be expanded this season. Many of the ads direct people to the shoppable recipes on the website where consumers can buy all the ingredients at the click of a mouse.

As we do not anticipate in-store sampling having a comeback soon, we will expand our digital sampling with programs that many retailers are implementing. We had a successful trial with Walmart in June where we launched a two-day, in-store display program in 250 Walmart locations featuring 3-pound bags of Green Anjou pears, beautiful graphics and a scannable QR code to link to a short, educational ripening video. The cart was a secondary display for pears in the produce department. 

This is a new program for Walmart, and USA Pears was one of the first organizations to participate as an alternative to sampling. The program gave us an opportunity to position pear bags as a grab-and-go item now that shoppers are looking to shorten their time in stores. 

Since many restaurants have shuttered or curtailed their business, consumers are cooking more meals at home, and we expect that trend to continue. While we have been working with meal kit companies for the past couple of years, we expanded that program to send meal kit ideas and recipes to wholesalers who shifted to selling meal kits while their restaurant accounts were closed to the public. 

We are also very active with the wholesalers involved with the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, as pears make a great addition to food boxes. 

Regardless of the programs that we implement, the key to repeat purchase is to provide consumers with a wonderful eating experience. A recent survey we commissioned revealed that 90 percent of consumers who have a wonderful eating experience with pears will purchase again on their next store visit. Conversely, over a third of consumers who have a poor eating experience will wait one to three months or more before purchasing pears again. 

We continue to work with retailers to undertake a conditioned pear program that helps ensure consumers can purchase a pear that will ripen to its sweet, juicy goodness within one to three days of purchase, in order to satisfy what consumers want. The initiatives are working: We now have 52 retailers on a conditioned pear program, including nine new retailer accounts last season. We will keep at this, as it is one of the best ways to ensure consumers have a great eating experience with the pears that you grow.

The Pear Bureau remains very nimble and flexible with creative promotions for retailers and consumers as shopping behaviors, retail formats and retail promotions evolve and change. 

We have been working with retailers all summer to line up effective promotions. While Zoom fatigue is a real thing, at least it allows us to meet several retailers in different time zones all in the same day, saving time and resources. There are certainly challenges and additional changes ahead, but from a pear promotion standpoint we remain optimistic for a good, profitable pear season. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about the Pear Bureau or marketing programs. •

by Kevin Moffitt