(Feb. 24) The market for Asian pear imports from Chile and New Zealand looks to be about the same as last year, with more product coming out of Chile and less from New Zealand.

John Hein, director of marketing for Kingsburg Apple Sales, Kingsburg, Calif., said that his company began receiving its first shipments of Asian pears on Feb. 19.

According to shippers, both Chile and New Zealand harvests are on track with last year, with Chilean product arriving in mid-February and New Zealand beginning to arrive in mid-April.

Asian pears from Chile usually ship through April or May and New Zealand product through July.

The bulk of Asian pears is expected to come from Chile. Kingsburg is expected to receive 50,000 boxes of product from Chile, up from around 300,000 last year.

Hein only expected about 50,000 boxes of Asian pears to come from New Zealand, which is down from about 75,000 boxes last year.

On Feb. 23, Hein reported prices of $12 for a one-layer flat of large-sized product, and $9.50 for a one-layer flat of 18s.

Those prices are right on track with the last two year’s prices, which ranged from $9.50-13.

Asian pears come in thousands of varieties, but there are two varieties that have become popular in the U.S. Those are the shinko variety and the hosui variety.

These pears look more like a brown apple than what most people associate with a normal bartlett or anjou. Asian varieties are round in shape and rusted brown in color, with small white speckles all over the fruit. They are sweet, crunchy to the bite and juicy.

Asian pears are somewhat more resilient than other varieties because they hold up longer while refrigerated and do not bruise as easily.

“Asian pears repeatedly rank in the top 10 specialty fruits in the country, in terms of popularity,” said Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director for World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles.

Schueller saidAsian pears are a popular fruit because of year-round availability and good quality control. Although available all year long, he said that the best time of year for the commodity is from mid-February to May or June, the length of the Chilean season.

“The Chilean season is when we receive a tremendous volume of Asian pears, so it’s when prices are the lowest for retailers,” Schueller said.

Schueller said that overall prices had been pretty steady for Asian pears, but that with a higher volume coming in each year, the prices have slowly been dropping.

He said that the peak of the Chilean season would be in March and April. Prices are expected to be lowest around that time.

Schueller expected the deal with Chile to lapse into June this year because of the season getting a two-week-late start.