(Sept. 1) The domestic Asian pear crop is seeing higher sugar content, and shippers anticipate a strong demand as they hit the midseason for the niche item as stone fruit supplies taper off.

The first shipments began in early July, about 10 days early, and shippers have already moved through several varieties, wrapping up the hosui and moving to the larger, bronze-russet colored shinko variety in early September.

While there is fewer fruit on the trees this season, they are larger than last season, said Bill Haskell, salesman with Fruit Patch Sales LLC, Dinuba, Calif. The harvest generally lasts into early October, but controlled-atmosphere storage can supply the market into late February.

On Sept. 1, single-layer cartons of Asian pears from California were $13-14 for size 12s, $11-12 for 14s, $11.50 for 15s, $10 for 18s and $9 for 20s, said John Hein, marketing director for Kingsburg Apple Sales, Kingsburg, Calif. Double-layer packs were $17 for 44s, $15 for 48s and $13 for 56s, he said.

Kingsburg will sell about 1.8 million single- and double-layer cartons from California, as well as consumer packs of four and six pears in an overwrapped tray. After the California season, Kingsburg immediately shifts to Chilean production to avoid any supply gaps.

Hein said the fruit seems to be maturing earlier this season.

The faster maturity is bringing higher sugar levels earlier.

“In the same way that brix has been above normal for stone fruit this season, the Asian pears are also doing very well,” Haskell said. “The overall eating quality is very good.”

Fruit Patch Sales will ship about 250,000 single-layer boxes this season.

“With the stone fruit season wrapping up very quickly this year, I think there will be a need for items to promote into the fall,” Haskell said. “We have a lot of the seasonal items that maybe aren’t a front-page item on an ad, but they’re items retailers like to have.”

The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, will receive its first shipments of Tottori 20th century pears in late September, said Jerry Kraft, West Coast apple and pear category manager based in Seattle.

The pears from the Tottori prefecture in Japan are bagged to protect them from the elements. That, and the small volumes, can boost prices into the mid-$40s for a 10-kilogram box, Kraft said.

“Everyone is saying it’s a vintage year, one of the better quality crops in appearance and sugar over the last five to six years,” he Kraft said.

Oppenheimer wound down its New Zealand Asian pear program the week of Aug. 29, and prices were at $12 per tray, he said.

Ben Johnson, owner of Bridges Produce Inc., Portland, Ore., markets organic Asian pears grown, packed and shipped by Columbia Gorge Organic Fruit Co., Hood River, Ore. Johnson said packing started the last week of August, and shipping will continue through February.

“Last year, it was an above-average crop, and this year looks to be probably a little above the five-year average,” Johnson said. “It’s a nice strong crop with good sizing.”