WENATCHEE — A smaller California pear crop and a one-third drop in imports could be good news for pear growers in Washington and Oregon who are starting to harvest what is anticipated to be a slightly larger crop than last year.

“The supply chain is open as Northwest pears enter the market,” Pear Bureau Northwest President Kevin Moffitt said. “Shippers are reporting solid demand for pears while retailers are also showing strong interest in the category.”

The bureau, a nonprofit marketing organization representing more than 800 pear growers in Washington and Oregon, is forecasting a fresh pear harvest this year of 16.6 million standard boxes, slightly larger than last season, according to the first official estimates released last week.

That’s about 366,000 tons of fresh pears between Wenatchee and Yakima and Oregon’s Mid-Columbia and Medford districts, which account for about 87% of the nation’s fresh pear crop.

The Wenatchee area, which stretches from Leavenworth to Chelan and beyond, produces almost half of all Bartlett and Anjou sold in the fresh market and about 25% of all Bosc, said PBNW spokeswoman Kathy Stephenson. Wenatchee also is one of the larger producers of Red Anjou and Starkrimson pears, and one of the few producing Concorde pears. She estimates the region has about 400 pear growers.

Starkrimson and Bartlett harvest started last week in the Northwest, with Green and Red Anjou and Bosc varieties on the way. Specialty pears like Comice, Seckel, Forelle and Concorde varieties will be picked near the end of August and into the first week of September, according to the timeline provided by PBNW.

Northwest growers combined expect to harvest 8.6 million boxes of Green Anjou pears, accounting for about 51% of the total crop. The other three largest varieties are:

  • Green Bartletts, estimated at 25% of the crop with 4.2 million boxes
  • Bosc, estimated at 14% of the crop with 2.3 million boxes
  • Red Anjou, estimated at 5.5% of the crop, at just under 1 million boxes.

Those top four account for 96% of the total pear crop.

Organic pears are expected to make up about 12% of the Northwest crop, with 43,000 tons, or 1.96 million standard boxes. Of those, 75% are Green Anjou and Bartlett. Bosc make up 14% and Red Anjou 6%.

Marketers this year are adapting to demand influenced by COVID-19 shutdowns.

“We have shifted more resources to innovative digital programs reaching online shoppers, targeted advertising, influencer campaigns and digital sampling,” Moffitt said. “Pears are a high impulse item for most consumers. With consumers shopping in stores less often and spending less time in the store overall, it is important to grab their attention on the digital platforms. We will continue to use these tactics and others to grab the attention of consumers and get them excited about purchasing pears throughout this season as we adapt to these new realities.”

Typically, promotions include in-store sampling. This year, the focus will be on digital sampling experiences and online shopping programs.

The domestic marketing team also will continue talking up the health benefits of eating pears, with an emphasis on creating “ins-pear-ation” for consumers who are preparing meals at home — recipes and other marketing through USAPears.org.

“We are excited to reach consumers in new ways this season, and we will stay nimble as the retail landscape changes,” Stephenson said. “We will also be amplifying our messaging around storing ripe pears in the refrigerator to extend shelf life as shoppers look to reduce their shopping trips and stock their homes with healthy foods.”

The export market remains uncertain because of the pandemic. International promotions likely will focus on countries that haven’t been hit as hard by COVID-19, such as New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“Due to COVID-19, we shifted many of our tactics during the second half of the 2019-20 pear season with a larger focus on reaching consumers across the digital landscape,” said PBNW International Marketing Director Jeff Correa. “We will continue to carry out these same tactics for the new season and extend them to other export markets. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the global economy, but we believe there are still good opportunities for USA Pears exports.”

Correa is reviving some of the marketing strategies used during the 2008-2010 global recession with the awareness that consumers tend to eat more at home during tough economic times.

Nevonne McDaniels: 664-7151