Harvesting of the first of the season’s Asian pears from Chile began the first week of February.

The fruit was scheduled to begin appearing in mostly Eastern U.S. markets by the end of February, said Charlie Hein, salesman for the White Salmon, Wash., office of The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The early variety is the yellow shinseiki,” he said.

The hosui harvest began the week of Feb. 22, he said, and picking of shinkos was expected to start a week or so later.

“We should start seeing those varieties on both coasts about the first or second week in March — the hosuis first, followed by the shinkos, Hein said.

The timetable is similar at Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing Inc.

“We should see the first of our Chilean Asian pears about March 3,” said Chris Kragie, vice president. “One hundred percent of our imported Asian pears will be from Chile.”

The first Western Fresh Marketing varieties scheduled to arrive are brown-skin hosuis and yellow-skin shinseiki. Varieties that are harvested later in the season will mean promotable supplies of the Asian pears from Western Fresh Marketing through July, Kragie said.

Quality assurance reports from Chile indicate the fruit looks nice and has good sugar content, he said, with 14s being the peak size.

Last fall, Western Fresh Marketing established a branch office in Santiago, Chile.

“For open market business, we should be the largest U.S. importer of Asian pears,” Kragie said. “We’ll do up to 175,000 single-layer equivalents.

The imports will join late season domestic fruit on the shelves. Kingsburg, Calif.-based Kingsburg Orchards will have supplies of hosuis, shinkos and honey golds at least through the second week in March, said Jeanice Franco, saleswoman.

A good range of sizes is still available, she said, from 18s to 12s.

Oppenheimer’s Asian pear volume from Chile will be about 160,000 single-layer equivalents, about the same as last year, Hein said.

That volume will give Oppenheimer supplies of Asian pears through June, just as the California season begins, he said.

“The fruit holds well, and we have coolers on both coasts that are perfect for cooling Asian pears,” Hein said.

Quality is reported to be good to excellent.

“We’re very happy with our Chilean growers,” Hein said. “They’re the same growers who’ve been providing Oppenheimer with Asian pears for up to 10 years.”

Oppenheimer will offer a wide variety of sizes: 20s, 18s, 16s, 14s, 12s and a limited number of 10s, Hein said. All of the fruit is packed in socks, he said.

Anthony Marano Co., Chicago, is expecting the first of the company’s South American Asian pears to be available in mid-March to late March, said John Graves, director of sales and purchasing for the company’s fruit department.

Anthony Marano Co., which focuses on serving a five-state area around Chicago, does not import the fruit but purchases straight loads of Asian pears from importers on both coasts, Graves said.

The company will have supplies of the imported fruit into July, he said.

“Because some California Asian pears are still available, the prices are a bit too soft to rush South American fruit to the U.S.,” Graves said. “The Chilean fruit usually opens about $10-12, while California prices are still in the $8-9 range.”

As of Feb. 23, supplies of imported Asian pears were not sufficient for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a market report.

Trouble ahead?

There could be a warning flag on the horizon for Asian pears from South America in years to come.

“Fewer and fewer Asian pears are being grown in Chile,” Hein said. “There’s the early season difficulty of competing against the California fruit, but some growers may have found alternative markets.”

Dovex Fruit Co., Wenatchee, Wash., will not be importing Asian pears this season, said salesman Matt Prater, and has exhausted its 2009 domestic inventory.

The 2010 Pacific Northwest Asian Pear season will likely begin in late August or early September at Dovex Fruit, he said.

Organic Asian pears

Sizes will be smaller this season for organic Asian pears from South America, said David Posner, president and chief executive officer of Awe Sum Organics Inc., Capitola, Calif.

The smaller size is by design.      

Growers had in past years delayed picking until the fruit was too mature, he said. This season, Posner asked growers to harvest fruit that was a little less ripe.

“This way we get great sugar content and much better pressure than we’ve ever had,” he said. “We sacrifice a little size for that.”

Awe Sum’s 100% organic Asian pears will be available about Mar. 18, Posner said, and Awe Sum will have supplies through April. 

Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co. is out of its domestic brown skin varieties but will continue to ship organic 20th century Asian pears through March and maybe into April, said Tom Lively, senior sales representative.

The fruit is actually two yellow varieties, shinseiki and nijisseiki, which U.S. distributors and retailers have named 20th century, he said.

Organically Grown, a wholesale distributor, expects supplies of imported organic fruit will arrive shortly.

“As soon as we see hosuis or other varieties available from the importers, we’ll definitely be buying them,” Lively said.