(Feb. 19) MILWAUKIE, Ore. — One of the biggest problems consumers have in the pear category is determining exactly when the fruit is ripe. Especially with anjou pears.

Because anjou pears do not change color when they ripen, researchers in New Zealand have developed a sensor label that does.

Auckland, New Zealand-based research company HortResearch, working with the Pear Bureau Northwest, has developed a four-pack clamshell for anjou pears equipped with the sensor label, known as RipeSense.

Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of the bureau, said the sensors, which are expected to be available in time for the pear harvest this fall, could be a big help to the pear category.

“It gets us over the hurdle of not knowing when an anjou pear is ripe, but it also adds excitement to the category by way of a line extension,” he said. “Other categories like cut salads are always adding new varieties to the mix. This sort of does that for our category.”

Developed over the course of five years, the label works by detecting aroma compounds emitted by the fruit as it ripens. Those compounds cause the label to change colors, which indicates the level of ripeness — from crisp to firm to juicy.

Moffitt said the packs will be particularly important for anjou pears, which are the largest fresh crop pear produced in the U.S. “A lot of people think bartletts at first, but a lot of bartletts are produced for canning or processing.”

In addition to determining ripeness, Moffitt said the RipeSense pack offers an added level of protection for the fruit with a tamper-resistant seal. It also increases the purchase amount of the fruit.

“The average purchase of pears is usually about three pears per customer,” Moffitt said. “This adds about 25% more product purchased each time.”

Moffitt said the new packs will add some extra costs for shippers in terms of labor and additional inventory, but he doesn’t think they will be prohibitive.

“We did some test marketing, and we were able to market them at $1.99 for four pears, and that was still profitable,” he said. “I think a good price point would be somewhere between $1.99-2.99. Probably around $2.39-2.49. I don’t think that will be prohibitive. It can’t be, or it’s not going to work.”

The Pear Bureau tested the packaging at some retail outlets in Portland in December. The group then conducted post-test interviews with produce department managers and consumers and made its recommendations to HortResearch.

Moffitt said the product hasn’t been introduced to the industry yet but that when it is, he anticipates a positive response.

“I anticipate that it will be intriguing to most shippers,” he said. “Whether it will fit with their programs, I don’t know. It is adding a new level of pack and extra work, so I don’t think it will fit with everybody’s system.”

Shippers who have done clamshell packs in the past, Moffitt said, should have no problem adapting their programs for the new containers.

Moffitt estimated that HortResearch will start out slow, selling 1 million to 3 million of the packs in the first year.

While the pear industry is getting first crack at them, they are being tested on other products such as kiwifruit, avocados and some melons.