(Feb. 27) Importers are looking forward to good demand for a high-quality Asian pear crop from Chile.

The first load of the season from Chile was expected to be distributed to retailers beginning Feb. 24 or Feb. 25, said Dan Spain, vice president of sales and marketing for Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, Calif.

Kingsburg expects to ship about 800,000 to 1 million cartons of Chilean Asian pears this year, Spain said, a 10% increase over last year. The company has grown its program about 10% for the past several years, he said.

Good growing weather spelled excellent quality for the first shipments of fruit, Spain said. And he expects brisk movement for the first fresh-market Asian pear crop of the year.

“There’s quite a bit of room now for product to come in,” he said. “There haven’t been a lot (of Asian pears) in the market.”

World Variety Produce, Los Angeles, which markets product under the Melissa’s brand, expects to get its first load of Chilean Asian pears about March 1, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for World Variety Produce. The company’s deal should run through May, he said. Domestic deals in California, Oregon and Washington should begin in June, he added.

In the meantime, World Variety is selling ialis, Koreans, fragrants and other Asian pears imported from China, Schueller said.

As more consumers become educated about the appeals of Asian pears — crunches like an apple, tastes like a pear — demand continues to go up, Schueller said. He said category growth at World Variety could top 10% in 2007.

“We’ve seen a huge trend in Asian pears the past 7 or 8 years,” Schueller said.

After selling controlled-atmosphere product left over from California’s fall deal, buyers are glad to switch to a fresh deal, Spain said.

“We expect retailers to embrace it,” he said. “They always look forward to that new product from Chile coming in.”