Merchandising the Right Pears at the Right Time

Basket of Pears

The challenges involved in year-round marketing are many — but so are the opportunities.

Bartlet PearsAmericans have always loved pears, but putting together an effective, comprehensive strategy for fueling sales year-round has at times proven difficult. As industry insiders have learned, doing so must include offering a host of varieties, emphasizing ready-to-eat product, underscoring the nutritional benefits, targeting younger consumers and savvy retailing.

Pear consumption is down, according to Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, WA.“We need to jumpstart the pear category in order to improve this downward trend,” she says.

With a smaller crop volume this year, retailers should put an emphasis on pear ads early and often to garner consumer interest.

“Pears should be on ad monthly — multiple varieties at a time — and the focus should be on flavor through a commitment to carrying ripened fruit,” says Shales. “The ticket to increased consumption is through increased satisfaction, and Stemilt’s Rushing Rivers program joins the best-growing locales, ripening program and flavor standards to move the needle in the right direction. While apples have a huge penetration number in the produce world, pears have some work to do to get this level.”

Shales says Stemilt’s focus on flavor and ripening is the only way to grow this number. “People need to love the flavor to increase consumption and the number of shopping pick-ups.”

Broc Bengard, director of sales for Bengard Marketing in Kelseyville, CA, says flat pear consumption is due to the high number of new apple varieties taking center stage and drawing excitement and impulse buys. “Retailers are looking for something new and ready to eat while working with suppliers looking to improve and grow the pear category rather than just stick with the status quo,” he says.

The longtime favorite of many consumers is the Bartlett pear, with its delicate thin skin, sweet taste and a bite that is both juicy and soft. It is also said the Bartlett is the favorite variety among home-canners.

“When done right there’s nothing that beats the Bartlett,” says Bengard. “That is, until these new pear varieties hit stores next season.”

Bengard says emerging varieties are what’s most exciting. “You’ll see some new varieties turn up on the retail shelves soon that will outshine the Bartlett in improved color, being ready-to-eat, better eating quality, higher sugar and longer storage ability. But they are just growing and developing. Expect to see them out in stores next season.”

Other varieties like the Forelle are available, but according to Bengard, they “lack the excitement of ready-to-eat, or the flavor profile required to catch consumers’ full attention. Forelle, especially, requires an experienced supplier to deliver at the correct moment. Delivered too early in the season or too late, and you lose the best-eating experience, which is about a three- to four-month window. The biggest advantage with Chilean Forelle, as opposed to domestic, is the size profile, which is much larger. Retailers can enjoy using 70 to 100 size and still have 11 to 13 Brix sugar.”

Bengard says sales trends tell retailers they need to make some changes in partnership with their suppliers to realign the strategies behind the pear category. “New varieties, new colors, higher flavor profiles — and always ready to eat,” he says.

The assorted varieties are not necessarily marketed in different ways, notes Kaci Komstadius, social media and communications director for Sage Fruit Company in Yakima, WA, “but rather the sizing of the varieties is being marketed in different ways. Larger pears are still being displayed in bulk, but for the past couple of seasons, a pouch bag has been introduced for the smaller-sized pears. They can vary in weight, but for us, we are using a 2-lb. pouch bag.”

Shales says new pear varieties are in abundance.“The best thing about pears is that each variety stands out in its own way on flavor and seasonality,” says Shales. “The season starts with summer pear varieties like Bartlett and Starkrimson, a red pear variety. Then, as those supplies start to run low, winter pears, or D’Anjou and Red D’Anjou, are ready to take center stage. These pears are ideal for winter and spring promotions; and with opposite colors, can make for eye-catching displays to drive purchases.”

Stemilt also markets some unique smaller-volume pears, including an early season Italian pear called Tosca, a cross between Coscia, an early-season pear originating in Tuscany, and Williams, which is better known as the Bartlett in the United States. The company also has a newer variety called the Concorde, which originated in England as a cross between the Conference and Comice varieties. Both are available conventionally and organically. Just like apples, there are specialty pear varieties that have a limited season or unique qualities that allow a small window for marketing.

“Because pears such as Concorde aren’t always around, they need to be marketed in a unique way to shoppers, whereas items like Bartlett and D’Anjou are better known by consumers. All pears need attention through demos, displays, ads and a compelling story, but there is an opportunity to highlight varieties around their unique qualities.”

Ripe With Opportnity

Offering ripe, ready-to-eat pears resonates with convenience-minded consumers.

Shales says it is essential retailers carry ripened pears, preferably in euro cartons. As pear season arrives, Stemilt will unveil the industry’s newest pear ripening rooms powered by Blythewood, SC-based Thermal Tech’s TarpLess technology. “The rooms are extra deep for increased capacity on ripening pears. We believe strongly that ripened pears improve consistency and quality at retail, and that drives the repeat purchase with consumers.”

The company designs its cartons with ventilation, which increases uniformity when ripening pears. “Carrying ready-to-eat pears is a proven way to increase sales, as the time that consumers have to wait to eat their pears is significantly shorter, and the experience is greatly improved,” says Shales. “Carrying ripened pears is the way retailers can be sure their pear program is built around flavor.”

Steve Lutz, senior strategist for CMI Orchards in Wenatchee, WA, says the biggest change he has seen in how the category is handled is retailers properly and prominently identifying ripe pears, thus helping shoppers understand when and how to ripen pears at home after purchase.

“The important consideration is to ensure display allocation is appropriate to the movement and clear shelf signage for shoppers so they know what to expect.”

— Steve Lutz, CMI Orchards

“Generally speaking, consumers are pre-conditioned to expect relatively short cycles between the purchase of fruit in a grocery store and consumption,” notes Lutz. “They typically don’t think of holding fruit to allow it to ripen. You could make a case that bananas are one of the few categories where consumers really understand this phenomenon because it is so visually apparent as the fruit changes from green to yellow.”

In nearly all other fruits, consumers are thinking about their plan for consumption when they make a purchase. “If pears are sold ripe, it’s appropriate for retailers to call this out to shoppers because it can impact the amount of fruit actually purchased. Likewise, if a pear will taste better after sitting on a kitchen counter for a few days, supermarkets will improve the customer experience by calling out this fact to buyers.”

Sage Fruit’s Komstadius suggests pre-conditioning pears upon arrival is a good way to accommodate riper fruit. “Also, utilize end caps to display pears when they are in season. Unlike apples, which should be kept in refrigeration in order to prolong shelf-life, pears should be displayed out of refrigeration, and end caps are the perfect opportunity. Pears are picked when they are mature, but not fully ripened. Once at room temperature, the ripening process continues, which allows consumers to purchase a more ready-to-eat piece of fruit.”

People buy apples because they are ready to eat, says Bengard, and because there are so many new exciting varieties to choose from. “Pears will never get to that level, but there’s a lot of room to catch up, which can only increase sales.”

Bengard says retailers are getting away from product that takes long to ripen. “Think about what other fruit in the produce department needs to ripen as long as a pear. There is a strong trend to make pears ready-to-eat like everything else in the department. The average consumer doesn’t want to wait so long to enjoy his/her purchase. That’s also the focus of new varieties in development.”

Understandably, different varieties of pears are being marketed in different ways. “Certainly, Anjou pears and Bartlett pears have very different characteristics,” says Bengard. “Bartlett is best for front-of-department ad displays with breaking yellow on top and greener fruit below. Anjou’s typically are the anchor of the pear display, with any damaged pieces rotated out quickly to keep them looking clean. Pre-conditioning displays and signage with pre-conditioned Anjous have helped movement tremendously.”

Lutz says there may be retailers that need to adjust space allocation if pears are delivered to the store ripe. “I’ve been in stores where pre-ripened pears were nearly decaying on the shelf simply because the unwary produce manager created a very large display thinking the green pears could withstand the shelf and warm store temperatures for several days. Not a good surprise. The important consideration is to ensure display allocation is appropriate to the movement and clear shelf signage for shoppers so they know what to expect.”

Health and Nutrition

Health is obviously a major selling point, but Bengard does not believe marketers are touting the health benefits of pears enough. “I think that really needs to come from the merchandising and promotion boards that have the collective funding and access to those channels, along with retailers,” he says.

The Pear Bureau Northwest (PBN), a Milwaukie, OR, non-profit marketing organization that promotes, advertises and develops markets for fresh pears grown in Oregon and Washington under the USA Pears brand, works with several retailers to increase awareness and consumption, and merchandise the nutritional benefits of USA Pears using POS materials and sampling events. Additionally, its network of supermarket dietitians is broad.

“Our organization has established and nurtured the relationships with SRDs across the country by providing meaningful tools and information about pears and other whole foods,” says Bob Koehler, regional marketing manager for Pear Bureau Northwest.

Last season, the organization provided nutrition webinars, helping SRDs learn about the most recent research. It also delivered nutrition-focused materials and POS material to top retailers and saw sampling events, cooking demonstrations and store tours with pears a feature of nutrition education.

“I believe this is a strong opportunity for the category,” says Koehler. “Pears have more fiber than the Top 20 fruits sold in retail based on a full serving. They are also an economical high-fiber offering for consumers. High fiber leads to better weight management, heart health and gut health — all important to today’s consumer.”

Stemilt utilizes its blog, The Stem Blog, and social media channels to tout the benefits of pears to consumers. “We also have a team of food bloggers and influencers who we work with to share our Rushing Rivers pear story, along with healthy recipes they craft so consumers can use pears in new ways at home,” says Stemilt Growers’ Shales.

“Health benefits are definitely being utilized by marketers in promoting pears,” says Sage Fruit’s Komstadius. “There have been numerous articles in national publications highlighting their healthful qualities. In addition, marketers are showcasing the versatility of pears. They aren’t just for eating fresh or in salads anymore. They can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, cooked, poached and paired with cheese.”

Kid Appeal

Shales says pears are one of the first foods parents feed their children. Stemilt has a line of kid-sized fruit, Lil Snappers, which makes it easy for retailers to market pears to parents.

“The fruit is in a kid-friendly size profile, and is high quality with great flavors and many varieties to choose from,” says Shales. “Lil Snappers makes an ideal lunchtime or after-school snack choice for parents to stock in the refrigerator because they are ready-to-eat, and the 3-lb. pouch bag size is the ideal weight for a family with two kids. There is a pear for each child to enjoy every weekday, and this aligns well with store trip frequency. It’s important for retailers to build fruit fans of tomorrow, and a program like Lil Snappers that markets intent right on the bag makes success around that easy.”

Marketers can get kids to try pears by touting new varieties, more ready-to-eat product and promoting them as a delicious alternative to apples. “For the younger kids, keep it fun and tied in with current popular culture and media that kids are following,” says Bengard Marketing’s Bengard.

“Kid-friendly packaging and demos are two ways to grab their attention,” says Komstadius. “Another would be to continue to incorporate them into the school lunch programs. It’s a way for kids to try something they may otherwise not be interested in, or at least think they’re not interested in.”

Koehler agrees. “Soft and juicy is appealing to little eaters,” he says. “Pears are an excellent first fruit, with the fiber small children need and texture they can enjoy safely. Sampling events are a great way to generate interest with families, while recipes and pairings with kid-friendly snacks are used by SRDs often. SRDs also share our monster stickers, kids’ recipe books and other great kid tools to encourage healthy eating.”

Retailing

Retailers can — and if they don’t already, they should — present a powerful case for a wide variety of consumers to take pears home.

“The produce department is a crowded place, now more than ever,” says Shales, “and the current downward trend on pears means the category needs attention. Pears are one of the healthiest foods, and incredibly easy for all ages to eat. Shoppers need to know more about them and a compelling story for why to buy them.”

Stemilt provides pop-up display bins that play off of the locale in which the pears are grown. “People want to know who is growing their food and where it is grown,” says Shales. “Our Rushing Rivers brand has a great story line to it, including a video that can be accessed by the QR-coded bin.”

Last year PBN worked with retailers to generate social media, web and blog posts to attract consumers. These activities mostly focused on the health benefits and the versatility for snacking and pairing pears with other ingredients. “This year we are supporting our retailers with digital marketing programs to raise excitement about the category,” says Koehler. “Pears are versatile. Presenting recipes and new ways to pair a pear with ingredients in the produce department — bagged salad, almond slices, Brussels sprouts and ripened pears — is a sure way to generate additional sales. The online shopping sources call this a shoveler,” says Koehler. “Simply ‘shovel’ these ingredients right into the basket for a quick solution. Pair with a fresh cheese and you’ve expanded the convenience for the shopper.”

Working with experienced suppliers who understand the ripening cycles is important.

“Use suppliers who plan for their retail weekly movement to draw out the best maturity pear,” says Bengard. “Doing so improves turn at store level, from early season fruit all the way to extended storage pears at the end of the season. Advancement in techniques of Bartlett pre-ripening and late-storage ability have given merchandisers a better window to sell and better product if they work with the right suppliers. For example, a yellow Bartlett pear sells three to one over green on the shelf, and too many sales are lost waiting for pears to ripen, besides missing the impulse buy.”

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