Originally printed in the September 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Bartletts still the ‘king of the category,’ but variety abounds.
With consumers moving toward berries and cut fruit, retailers face increased pressure to bring excitement to seasonal fruits such as pears. Expanded varieties, new packaging alternatives and sophisticated ripening technology, combined with social media and online resources, give retailers the tools they need to bring consumers back to pears.
“Among all pears, Bartlett is the king of the category, according to customer satisfaction and preference surveys,” says Kyle Persky, sales manager for Rivermaid Trading Company, Lodi, CA. The California Pear Advisory Board, based in Sacramento, CA, reports Bartletts account for 38 percent of total category sales over the year, including 67 percent during peak Bartlett season from July through September and 61 percent from October through December.
Persky notes “because most consumers consider the Bartlett to be a summer pear, retailers should capitalize on that connection by displaying Bartletts alongside peaches, nectarines and plums as they become available during July and August. Retailers who display Bartletts next to tree fruit instead of next to apples enjoyed an 11 percent increase in sales during the summer.”
Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, WA, stresses the importance of a strong start. “Pull in a back-to-school ad to help get bulk and pouch summer pears moving. We start the season in mid-August with our Rushing River Tosca and Bartlett pears, followed by the Starkrimson,” says Shales. “A strong early season promotion sets retailers up for a strong season that will result in elevated sales dollars, high volumes sold and some very happy customers.” She also suggests extending pear season through National Pear Month in December with monthly promotions of multiple varieties in bulk and pouches, sharing stories about pear growing regions and using colorful and informative display bins.
“For DeCicco’s, pear season runs late August through November,” says Melvin Contreras, produce director for DeCicco & Sons Family Markets, Armonk, NY. “Most of the pear varieties our shoppers like – Bartlett, D’Anjou, Bosc, Comice – come from Washington. We sell pears that are ripe, with good color and aroma. During pear season, our bakery and deli departments take advantage and use pears in salads and baked goods.”
California’s Bristol Farms markets strive to source the highest quality in-season pears with the best flavor profile. Blake Lee, produce buyer for Bristol Farms, Carson, CA, comments that customer favorites are Comice, Bartlett, Red D’Anjou, and Bosc. “Our customers expect a great eating experience. In season, we carry a full line of the best eating pears. And while we typically offer pears year-round, we are willing to wait until we can provide the right piece of fruit.”
Promoting Variety, Versatility
“Pears are known mostly for their snackability and contribution to sweet desserts, but they absolutely can be used in savory dishes such as appetizers, side dishes and main courses,” says Chuck Sinks, president, sales and marketing, Sage Fruit Company, Yakima, WA. For an appetizer, they pair well with meat and cheese. You can add pears to salads, sandwiches, flatbreads and pizzas, or roast them with pork tenderloin. Pears are extremely versatile.”
Chelan Fresh, Chelan, WA, offers guidance on best uses: classic and red Bartletts for snacking; sweet, juicy Comice pears for a gift box or salad; small, sweet, flavorful Seckels for a child’s snack; firm, sweet Concordes for cooking and baking; bright red, juicy Crimsons for salads and snacking; firm, sweet and spicy Bosc pears for pies, baking and poaching; and crunchy Asian pears in salads or with cheese and wine.
The USA Pears website offers links to a variety of recipes – jams, sauces, smoothies and muffins are among the most popular.
“We encourage as much in-store activity as possible because pears tend to be an impulse rather than shopping list item,” says Rivermaid’s Persky. “Retailers can move pears with a pear-o-rama display when multiple varieties are available, as well as in-store promotions, cross-promotions with items like wines and cheeses, recipes and social media.”
“Pears can be challenging, so they have to be a promotional priority,” advises George Harter, vice president of marketing for CMI Orchards Inc., Wenatchee, WA. “Focus on all varieties, and promote both bulk and pouches. Pouches are convenient, and they also are a vehicle for recipes and stories, including how to tell if a pear is ripe. A pear-o-rama or other attention-getting display can show consumers how to use pears, teach them something new and give them a new recipe. Awesome pears at a good price can pull consumers away from other fruit.”
“We recommend large, eye-catching displays with informational material to help consumers know what to look for in their purchases during peak season and during the holidays,” suggests Sage’s Sinks.
The California Pear Advisory Board validated the impact of a multi-variety display. In a study involving 60 stores, sales for Bartlett-only displays versus a full-variety display of Bartlett, Red Bartlett and Bosc pear were down 14 percent from the previous year while sales were up 4.4 percent and gross profit rose 17 percent for full-variety displays. In a different study, they evaluated the early season promotion of “breaking” Bartletts. The treated Bartletts generated greater sales volume, and advertising promotions increased both volume and dollar sales.
“We focus on theater and the experience, looking at ways to merchandise and highlight the many ways pears can improve recipes and be enjoyable for our customers,” says Lee of Bristol Farms. “With custom-made promotion signage from our marketing departments and strategic merchandising plans, we look to drive customer traffic to look for that culinary aspect of shopping and want to use pears in a variety of ways.”
“Remember to pull in Spanish-language materials to meet the needs of your customers,” says Rivermaid’s Persky. “We offer most of our consumer communication materials in Spanish, as well as our Superheroes Del Sabor promotion. When merchandised in totes, Superheroes Del Sabor allows you to move ready-to-eat fruit quickly.”
Trade organizations such as Milwaukie, OR-based USA Pears are an important resource. “We have creative tools and materials for supermarket dietitians to help them to serve their customers,” says Kathy Stephenson, director of marketing communications. “We also share recipes with retailers that can find their way to the store shelf, into print and digital ad circulars, on websites and newsletters, as well as at demonstrations in-store with pears and special recipes. Sometimes these recipes incorporate a partner like yogurt, nuts or spice blends to highlight the versatility of pears.”
Marketing Pears For Health
Pears deliver a positive health message to shoppers. “A medium-sized pear contains only 100 calories, is fat free, a good source of vitamin C and an excellent source of fiber, and can help people feel satisfied between meals and snacks,” says Stephenson. “Bartlett, Anjou and Bosc pears are Heart-Check Certified by the American Heart Association. Retailers can incorporate this certification onto signage and post nutrition information. Pears also have a low glycemic index, making them a natural source of sweetness with lower carbs for the diabetic population. One of the most frequently visited pages on our website is the information about pears and diabetes.”
Younger eaters are the future of pears, and USA Pears offers resources for parents, educators and supermarket dietitians. Stephenson says “pears are a low-allergen fruit and often the first fruit introduced to kids, and we remind parents pears will keep their kiddos satiated longer than fruit with less fiber. We emphasize healthy snacking and love to highlight good PEARings, such as nuts, nut butters, yogurt, oatmeal and other healthy snack options. USA Pears provides tips and ideas for whole food snacking, as well as fun stickers, pencils, bookmarks and activity books to educators and supermarket dietitians.”
Fruit and package size also communicate child-friendliness. “Lil Snappers, our three-pound bags of kid-size pears, are a huge success,” says Stemilt’s Shales. “The average purchase of pears is less than that, so putting three pounds in a bag sells more, reduces food waste, and reduces shrink since retailers can replace a bad pear with a good one without discarding the entire bag. Our two-pound organic bag helps manage the price point.”
“Bristol Farms offers produce samples, including pears, to our younger shoppers to encourage them to seek fruits and vegetables as their first choice in snacking and to show parents that it is okay to pick healthy fresh options for their kids,” says Lee.
Handle With Care
The California Pear Advisory Board notes that consumers are very clear about what they’re looking for in Bartletts – more yellow and less green color and an attractive appearance. However, only one-quarter of consumers say they know how to ripen a pear, and few know to feel the stem to determine ripeness. The Board recommends displaying Bartlett pears that are more green and less yellow because they will ripen at room temperature, placing them stems up on a padded surface, and refrigerating those that turn yellow.
“Ripening is meant to occur at store level and not the warehouse or distribution center,” says Rivermaid’s Persky. “Through proper rotation, you can give your customers a range of degrees of ripeness and ensure pears will ripen at store level or in their homes. A properly handled pear brings them back for more good eating – and builds your sales at the same time. Always remember, the higher the ripening temperature, the shorter the shelf life. Educate consumers to refrigerate pears as soon as they reach desired ripeness.”
“Pears are not always perfectly ripe and ready to eat when they’re place in a shopping cart,” advises Sinks of Sage Fruit. “Pears ripen at room temperature, not in the fridge. Once they are ripened, pears will generally keep in the refrigerator for three to five days. We don’t want consumers to have a poor experience when they bite into a pear, so conveying “Check the Neck” for ripeness is important. A pear that is soft around the middle is overripe.”
RIPENING PROGRAMS FOR RETAIL
Ripening protocol is extremely important for enhancing the pear eating experience. Dennis Kihlstadius, Produce Technical Services, Bemidji, MN, explains “the pear is climacteric and requires certain conditions for proper ripening and optimal flavor and texture. Pulling pears out of storage and treating with ethylene will help them taste better. For example, a California pear without ethylene treatment can take 18 days to ripen and doesn’t taste that good. Increasingly, the shipper does the “breaking” because the United States has a shortage of ripening rooms in retail settings. Retail chains then need to maintain the cold chain until the pear goes to the store level and finishes ripening.”
The California Pear Advisory Board website echoes this advice: “Consumers want pears with an appetizing appearance and ripeness. That’s why proper conditioning and handling of your California Bartlett Pears is so important. There are two ways to manage this critical task: 1) Obtain ethylene-conditioned California Bartlett Pears from a shipper. When the Bartletts arrive, have them pressure-tested (for ripeness) by trained warehouse personnel. Store the pears as required per your specifications, and ship to stores as needed, or 2) Obtain California Bartlett pears from a shipper. When the pears arrive, warm the pulp temperature to 55 degrees or higher. Treat pears with ethylene for 24-36 hours in banana rooms. Ship pears to stores as needed, or return to storage after cooling. Fruit ripening happens at the store level.”
“Whether you condition pears in your warehouse or have them conditioned by the shipper, the goal is the same – customer satisfaction,” advises Kyle Persky, sales manager for Rivermaid Trading Company, Lodi, CA. “Retailers need to store conditioned pears below 46°, and conditioned pears can be cooled down to 30° and brought back out to room temperature without any quality degradation or adverse effects.”