Pears in clamshells at retail
About 40 percent of d’Anjou pears from the Pacific Northwest are conditioned before they reach the retail store so they don’t take as long to ripen after consumers buy them.
Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest, predicts that someday up to 80 percent of the winter pears will be conditioned, but says momentum has been slowing down.
In 2001, the Pear Bureau launched an aggressive program to promote conditioning and hired a ripening consultant, Dennis Kihlstadius, to train shippers, wholesalers, and retailers how to ripen pears. Retailers report sales increases of 25 to 50 percent when pears are conditioned.
But Moffitt said inconsistencies in the industry’s conditioning program are leading to confusion at retail. A number of different methods might be used to ripen the pears, and conditioned pears might be referred to as preconditioned, ripened, or preripened. A few years ago, the Pear Bureau’s board voted to call them conditioned pears, but other terminology is creeping in again, he said.
“I think the retailers are finding there’s a little bit of confusion coming out of what their suppliers are suggesting is a conditioned pear. I think the retailers would like to see a little more consistency and standardization.”
In recent years, some retailers have started to condition pears themselves, Moffitt noted. There are also ready-to-eat pears, sold in clamshells, that are probably softer than conditioned pears used to be.
This year, the Pear Bureau commissioned Dr. Beth Mitcham at the University of California, Davis, and retired Oregon State University researcher Dr. Paul Chen to do a literature review to find out what research has been done around the world on pear conditioning. Then, other U.S. scientists will identify any gaps in the knowledge that further research could help fill.
“We’re really going to get a better, broad-based look at what’s been done and what hasn’t been done,” Moffitt said.
Equipment and technology for conditioning has changed since some of the research was done, he noted. Many of the studies were done in scientifically controlled environments, and the Pear Bureau would like to see more tests done in the actual distribution chain.
Consumer packaging is also an issue because pears can easily be damaged before consumers get them home from the store, he said. “I think consumer packaging is one way that maybe the industry can add value to the product.”
Scott Martinez, Pear Bureau chair, said producers are using a variety of methods to condition their pears. Establishing parameters for conditioned pears should ensure that a quality product is delivered to consumers time and time again.
“If you go to McDonald’s and buy a Big Mac, it’s always the same,” he said. “You’re not going to do that with fruit, but the closer you get to it, the better.”
With standards in place, retailers could be assured that the pears they receive are delivered at optimum quality, where they still have some shelf life, yet will ripen faster for the consumer. The faster the pears ripen, the sooner the customer will go back to the store and buy more, Martinez said.
Jeff Correa, the Pear Bureau’s international marketing director, is hoping that pear exporters around the world can work together to encourage German retailers to offer preripened pears.
Germany is the largest market for U.S. pears in continental Europe, but the volumes of exports fluctuate, depending on the size of the European pear crop. Germany produces pears itself, and neighboring Italy is a big supplier, along with the Netherlands. Argentina, Chile, and South Africa supply pears in the off-season. Preripened pears have helped boost pear consumption in U.S. markets, and Correa thinks there’s potential for that to happen in Germany.
“One thing I want to start doing is ripening training,” he said. “But it won’t really work for us if we’re only 5 percent of the market. This is a concept that needs to get picked up by other guys who are also supplying the market.”
If they can work together to offer training seminars to get retailers interested in preripened pears and show them the benefits, it might help everyone in the market, he said. He plans to broach the idea through the World Apple and Pear Association, of which Moffitt is a board member.