Originally printed in the September 2019 issue of Produce Business.
Smart pricing, promotions, the right products and placement can lift category.
Americans love pears in a variety of ways — and the primary challenge for retail produce departments is to illustrate those.
Merchandising methods for doing this include delineating the host of varieties available, offering menu suggestions, targeting parents of small children and keeping produce in peak condition.
Pear consumption has been on the decline over the past few years, says Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers LLC in Wenatchee, WA, “and that’s something we want to reverse. We see flavor and promotion as the ways to get pears back in the cart. When people have a good experience, they come back again. Stemilt’s Operation Flavor focus is centered on ensuring that we are delivering great quality and high-flavor pears to stores.”
Kathy Stephenson, director of marketing communications for Pear Bureau Northwest in Milwaukie, OR, acknowledges the downward consumption trend but points out that change may be close at hand, at least in the Pacific Northwest crop. “After three down years in production, we had a strong crop last season.”
Bartlett and d’Anjou pears are the most popular varieties, according to Shales. “Their seasons overlap some, but in general, Bartlett kicks off the new pear season and d’Anjou replaces it as the volume leader once the Bartlett season starts to wind down.”
Putting together a retail program to market pears effectively means establishing a multifaceted approach that includes but is not limited to the following:
Conditioning: Sustainability in processing and packaging is a major initiative right now across the entire produce department, according to Chuck Sinks, president of Sage Fruit Company in Yakima, WA. “Conditioned pears are also becoming more and more popular for better eating quality.” His company is currently expanding its conditioned pear program.
Many retailers with conditioned pears provide a sign that states they are “sweet and juicy” to encourage shoppers to recognize pears are ripe, Stephenson says. Others simply add the word “ripe” to the shelf tags. “Finally, many retailers do not add any point-of-sale messaging and see their sales increase as a result of higher consumer satisfaction and fruit that is consumed sooner and more frequently.”
When it comes to winter pears like D’Anjou and Red d’Anjou, ripening “really is the ticket to consumer satisfaction and retail success,” notes Shales. Her company has been a long-time leader in ripening via its RipeRite ready-to-eat pear program.
Shales says it’s important for retailers to message consumers when carrying ripened pears, as well as educate them about how to tell when pears are ripe and ready to eat. That doesn’t mean sharing the science behind them, she notes, “but if they can tap into similar strategies around how they’ve messaged when avocados are ready to eat, that’s a great start. “We know that when shoppers have a great experience with ripe pears, then they will come back to the store sooner to have that experience again,” she says.
Stephenson adds, “We have an industry group that is ready to do what it can to ensure ripe-and-ready fruit for the retailer and consumer. This includes creating ripening programs at the DCs for the retailer or conditioning fruit at the packing and shipping facilities.”
More and more retailers are adopting a conditioned-pear program, she says, adding, “and with our modern shopper wanting produce that is ready to consume, we think the pear industry is working with each of our retailers to determine the best program.”
Storage: To accommodate riper fruit, Sinks says pears should be stored in a retail cooler. “This will help maintain their ripeness for consumers, while also slowing the process down so as not to lead to a large amount of shrink,” says Sinks.
Merchandising: To help generate excitement around pears, Sinks recommends building large, eye-catching displays with informational material to help consumers know what to look for in their purchases. Information can also include how to select and store pears. “The displays are especially beneficial during new crop/harvest season, as well as during the holidays,” he says. In order to create still more excitement, Sage is investing in new, consumer-friendly packaging that allows the company to maximize its efforts across all sizes of fruit.
Marketing: There is no one way to generate pear excitement, Shales has found, but aligning what she refers to as the “four P’s” of marketing — price, promotion, the right product and placement — is always going to lead to success. “We see promotions focused around tying pears with gourmet foods like cheese and wine as part of a charcuterie board. We also see big displays of pears and callouts about the unique features of each variety. The big thing for retailers to generate excitement on pears is to regularly promote them when in peak season. This means monthly ads — at least one per month — with multiple pear varieties on ad at one time.”
Retailers with multiple-variety displays and big, bold displays “see great increases in sales, of course,” says Stephenson. “Those that had the best results last year included cross-merchandising opportunities with salad, cheese, nuts and other ingredients commonly found paired with pears.”
Throughout the year, Stephenson points out, pears can be promoted with the current season. Holiday baking, entertaining and decorating is a good fit for pears from November to December “and connecting shoppers with the health benefits of pears in the healthy New Year,” she says.
Retailers can rely on sampling events, in-store dietitians, website and social media sharing and more to build awareness of the pear seasons that consumers can celebrate.
Making a pitch to kids: “Kids love pears,” insists Brianna of Stemilt. “They are one of the first foods given to a baby, and the enjoyment can continue into adolescence if we can provide kids with a great eating experience. Kids will tell you if they don’t like something, after all.”
Stemilt has had a line of kid-sized fruits that are centered on flavor and quality for years. The Lil Snappers brand has transformed the way consumers see and enjoy small-sized pears, says Shales. “They now see this product as great for their kids, and the bags are helping to build incremental sales at retail for customers that participate.”
It is a brand that works, explains Shales, “because we are marketing intentionally to that kid/parent audience. They see pears as a great snack or lunchtime solution because of this branded pack. We really believe getting kids to love pears is how we will build lifelong pear fans.”
Stephenson says, “Each year, our managers offer sales trend data showing opportunity gaps for the pear category compared to the market. We also provide usage and attitude information to help retailers know what shoppers are looking for. A great demographic graphic we use helps retailers recognize that pear consumers are younger than they may think, and are more affluent than most shoppers. Paying attention to the pear shopper helps ensure to attract key groups to the store.”
Many retailers are placing fresh fruit at the front of the store for kids to try. There are also often pear sampling events in stores, conducted by demonstrators or by nutrition ambassadors.
“Last season, several dietitians shared pear stickers provided by Pear Bureau to decorate pears like monsters for Halloween,” says Stephenson. “Many shippers participate in the Eat Brighter campaign to entice kids to try pears. Finally, the bagged pears, which are often kid-sized, are an excellent way to encourage kids’ consumption of pears.”
The right-sized pear makes it easy to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, she adds. “PBNW also works with schools and education groups to make sure pears are ripe, ready and delicious for kids.”
Ready-To-Eat: The many health benefits of pears are being promoted across multiple platforms. However, the selection and storage process is also being promoted to help consumers make better purchasing decisions with regards to pears.
“Pears are not always perfectly ripe and ready to eat when they’re placed in a shopping cart,” notes Sinks. “Instead, they may need to sit out at room temperature for a couple of days. We don’t want consumers to have a poor experience when they bite into a pear, so conveying the Check the Neck message [applying gentle pressure to the neck of a pear; if it yields, it is ripe] is relatively important.”
That, Sinks adds, is another reason why Sage Fruit is expanding is conditioned pear program — so that consumers can enjoy their pears when they get them home from the grocery store.
Varieties: Each variety of pear, Stephenson notes, has its own character, flavor and uses. She calls Bartlett pears “the quintessential snacking pear, and great on salads with the fresh, bright flavor when ripe.” Bosc pears “are a highlight during the holidays, partially because of the use for baking and poaching. They have the most exceptional shape. The red pears are terrific sliced, adding color to any table. The Anjou pear can certainly inspire shoppers throughout the year with its versatile taste and texture — delicious out of hand, in dishes, on salad.”
Stephenson says there are 10 pear varieties or more grown in the Northwest, “and honestly, most retailers don’t display more than three or four.” The Pear Bureau encourages retailers to bring all varieties to the table if they are interested in creating excitement for their shoppers.
There are a couple varieties on the horizon, she says, but producing those takes time. “We recommend retailers bring in the red pears like Starkrimson in the fall and Red Anjou in the spring, or add Comice pears during the holidays — a perfect gift-basket pear.”
Varieties aren’t necessarily being marketed differently, Sinks points out, though the different sizes of pears are. “You’ll likely find the larger ones in bulk, whereas smaller-sized ones are more likely to be packaged in a pouch bag. The smaller pears are a more kid-friendly size, and so often appeal to them.”
Promote With Apples: The most frequently purchased item along with pears is the apple, according to a shopping-basket analysis from one of the bureau’s major retailers.
Stephenson calls it a great idea to promote pears and apples together, encouraging shoppers to buy from their tree fruit categories. “Most consumers are likely to purchase both. The pear industry does not see apples as a threat to the pear purchase, but the large display space commanded by apples is a concern. Our marketers encourage retailers to maintain multiple pear varieties on shelf even when there is a new apple variety being considered.”
Shales says she does not have any clear data on whether or not consumers buy pears together with apples versus one or the other. “But pears are more of an impulse purchase than apples. Because pears are an impulse item, we must really wow shoppers with quality and flavor,” she says.
Sage Fruit’s Sinks agrees. “Apples are an item consumers put on their weekly shopping list, while pears are more of an impulse buy. No one variety is a superstar, but there are three main varieties that dominate the category: Anjou, Bosc and Bartlett,” he says.