Strong export demand and lighter volumes are buoying Northwest pear markets.

Through Nov. 12, about 5.5 million boxes of northwest pears had been shipped, 32% of the 17.4 million boxes expected for 2010-11, said Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.

Export demand, smaller crop spur pear movement

Moffitt


“We’re on par for where we should be in terms of the size of the crop,” Moffitt said. “Exports are probably a little stronger than we were expecting. We’d like to see a little more domestic movement.”

Volumes are running about 15% to 20% short of pre-season estimates for Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fruit Marketing, said Mike Nicholson, domestic sales manager.

Given that estimates were not that big to begin with, demand has been strong, with boxes of size 90 and larger bartletts fetching $24 Nov. 22, Nicholson said.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc., reported very strong demand for Washington bartletts because of problems late in the California bartlett deal.

Heading into December, Stemilt expected to have promotable supplies of anjous and other varieties, with good quality and sizes peaking on 70s and 80s — larger than the company expected.

Moffitt expected prices to hold relatively steady through December. Nicholson said prices should stay steady through November but could rise in December.

Prices could rise slightly before the end of the year, but not enough to hamper promotions, Pepperl said. Pear markets would likely strengthen more in the New Year, he said.

Despite the tighter supplies, Nicholson reported fairly good ad support heading into December.

“A $24 box might be $22 on ad, and retailers can promote that at a pretty attractive level,” he said.

About two-thirds of the region’s bartletts had been shipped by mid-November, with anjous, boscs, comices and other varieties entering the heart of their shipping seasons, Moffitt said.

Growers had expected pears to be on the small side this year, but so far, fruit scheduled for the domestic market is peaking on 80s, right where retailers like it, Moffitt said. Smaller fruit is being routed to export markets, he said.

Nicholson agreed, reporting strong export demand for size 100 and smaller anjous. In addition to traditional export markets like Mexico and Canada, Chelan Fresh has seen strong demand from the Middle East and Scandinavia this season.

Through September, U.S. grower-shippers had exported about 83,090 metric tons of fresh pears, up from 80,367 tons last year at the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Export markets also have been a good destination for fancy grade fruit this year, of which Moffitt said there is more than in a typical year. A weak dollar is helping spur export sales this year, he said.

Chelan Fresh is packing more anjous than usual fancy because of a cool spring, which left fruit with markings, Nicholson said.