(Feb. 27, 2:03 p.m.) Asian pears from Chile should begin showing up on U.S. retail shelves the first week in March, with volume shipments expected soon after, right on schedule, importers said.

“Most shippers will start in mid-March,” said Robert Schueller, public relations director for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets under the Melissa's label.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group expects to receive its first shipments March 3, said David Nelley, pipfruit category director.

The company expects to increase its Chilean shipments by about 20% this year, thanks to excellent quality this season and good returns last year for Chilean growers, he said.

Sizing also is better this year, Nelley said, with sizes expected to peak in the optimal 12- to 16-count range and less small fruit expected to ship.

Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, Calif., expects its first shipments the week of March 3, with volume shipments expected the following week, said Bob Maxwell, special projects manager. The company expects to bring in a bout 50,000 boxes per week when the deal peaks from mid-March to late April, he said.

Some importers would see product come in as early as the week of March 3, predicted Tom Richardson, division manager of Giumarra of Wenatchee, Wenatchee, Wash.

Giumarra should begin shipping the following week, with volumes expected by the middle of the month, Richardson said.

In late February, Schueller reported strong demand and pricing on domestically grown storage Asian pears.

On Feb. 26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $8 for size-13 storage olympic Asian pears from California sold on the Philadelphia Terminal Market, down from the $12-13 price fetched for size-14 storage hosui Asian pears from California last year at the same time.

World Variety expects to ship new-crop product from Chile through May, with storage shipments continuing at least until July, Schueller said. The company expects its Chilean deal to grow by about 5% over last year, he said.

Sizing was peaking in the 12- to 20-count range, Schueller said. World Variety typically sees the strongest demand among 16s and 18s.

The weather in Chile in mid to late February was conducive to good Asian pear quality, Richardson said.

“It’s been nice and hot, and Asian pears tend to like that kind of weather,” he said. “We haven’t heard of any concerns.”

Complementing World Variety’s Asian pear deal is a Korean pear import deal that runs from November to March, Schueller said. Demand for the larger, juicier premium Korean product has led the company to increase imports by about 20% over last year, he said.