Coming off a surprising record 2011 pear crop, the Pacific Northwest is poised once again to market another large crop.

But unlike last season’s late start, which forced marketers to play catch-up throughout year, early indications in 2012 point to a more normal beginning, said Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer, Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.

“The crop was really late — about 10 days to two weeks behind,” Moffitt said of the previous season. “We started out late and we weren’t expecting the crop that we got.”

A 2011 pre-season estimate pegged the combined Oregon and Washington crop at 19.2 million 44-pound box equivalents. But Moffitt said he expects it to end up closer to 20 million boxes.

As a result, he said most shippers report more fruit in storage than they’d like to see this time of year.

“We’ll definitely have fruit into the California season, and they’ll be starting in July,” Moffitt said.

But the overlap should be manageable, he said.

“I believe if everything continues how they’re going, it will be a fairly open pipeline,” said Kyle Persky, sales manager for Scully Packing Co. LLC, Finley, Calif. “They realize when we start, it’s time for them to be done.”

California’s pear crop is running slightly behind schedule this year, but grower-packer-shippers say nearly perfect weather is fostering very clean fruit that’s sizing well.

“They’re looking really good, and so far we’ve dodged the bullet,” said David Thiessen, marketing manager for David J. Elliot & Sons, Courtland, Calif.

Persky agreed.

“It looks like it will be a good sized crop, not the bumper crops we’ve had over the last couple of years.”

Last year, the California Pear Advisory Board’s estimate was about 4.1 million 36-pound box equivalents. Of that, about 3.2 million boxes were expected to be bartletts.

Thiessen and Persky say they anticipate promotable volumes by mid-July.

The 2012 crop in Oregon and Washington is shaping up to be another large one, although most likely not a record, Moffitt said.

The Pacific Northwest should have promotable volumes by the third or fourth week of August if current weather conditions continue, he said.

Out of the gate fast

Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash., hit promotions hard and heavy at the start of last season, and it’s paying off, says marketing director Roger Pepperl.

“It really helps if you get out of the gate fast,” he said. “You can never catch up if you’re getting a late start.”

Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima Wash., works closely with the Pear Bureau on several promotional programs, including in-store sampling, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager.

“Consumer education is critical in increasing pear consumption,” he said. “As we learned with sampling with the pear crop, consumers respond very well, and sales picked up incredibly well if you have a sampling program.”

The bureau is still working on marketing plans for this season, but Moffitt said it will increase retail sampling and continue consumer magazine advertising.

Comprising the bureau’s largest budget item, retail sampling includes co-op advertising and display contests.

“It’s an expensive program, but it’s a great way to teach customers about a variety they may not have tried,” he said. “With pears, you have to show them what they taste like when they’re ripe.”