Asian pear markets should strengthen when California yields to a much smaller Chilean crop.

Chilean asian pear volumes are expected to be up to 30% lower for Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing, and they could be down as much as 60% industrywide, said Chris Kragie, the company’s deciduous fruit manager.

Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc. also expects its Chilean asian pear volumes to be down about 30% this season, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations.

“Demand will be up and prices higher than they typically are,” Schueller said.

On Feb. 25, the Los Angeles terminal market reported prices of $13-15 for one-layer cartons of hosui 12s from California, down from $14-17 last year at the same time.

Losses for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group could be toward the upper end of estimated industrywide losses of 50% or more, said David Nelley, apple pear and cherry category director. One Oppy grower, one of Chile’s largest, lost his entire crop.

Oppy should see its first Chilean asian pears by the end of February, and fruit should ship through May, Nelley said.

The company also will bring in small volumes of Papples, a cross between an asian pear and a red bartlett, in May, June and July.

Schueller also expected a gap — as short as a few days or as long as two weeks — between the end of the California deal and the beginning of the Chilean deal. Chilean fruit should begin arriving in April, he said.

Retailers will have to be open to taking smaller fruit and in some cases fruit with condition issues from Chile this season, Kragie said. Otherwise, industry losses could be much higher than projected.

Nelley agreed that retailers will have to make do with disproportionate numbers of 18s, 20s and 22s this season. He’s optimistic they will.

“It seems like there’s a willingness to accept smaller sizes rather than to go without.”

Some asian pears will have more scarring and less russeting than normal, but the eating quality should be fine, Kragie said.

“A few of our retailers have decided to go down one or two sizes, and that’s helped tremendously,” he said.

In late February, demand for late-season California product was tepid, thanks in part to the cold weather on the East Coast and throughout the U.S., Kragie said.

“Pricing is so-so — we thought by now it would be better,” Kragie said Feb. 24.

Schueller described late-season California storage crop quality as “just fair” the week of Feb. 24.

Volumes out of California in January and February were normal for that time of year, Kragie said.