ASIAN PEARS

CARE: Hardy Asian pears will last up to two weeks without refrigeration and up to three months refrigerated.

NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Asian pears are low in calories and contain fiber, potassium and vitamins C and E.

AVAILABILITY: Year-round.

(July 21) Asian pears go by many names, including Nashi, Japanese pears, pear apples and Chinese pears. The many varieties of these crisp fruits fall into three major categories: round or flat with green to yellow skin; round or flat with bronze to russet skin; and pear shape with green to russet skin. All of them are extremely crisp, watery and mildly sweet.

An extremely versatile and hardy fruit, there are hundreds of applications of the Asian pear. In its native China, the fruit is generally enjoyed as a popular raw fruit eaten out of hand, sometimes dipped in salt water. Consumers in its other homeland, Japan, use the fruit in a variety of cuisines. It can be a filling for tarts, pies or flan or can be poached or sauteed with syrups or spices for an exotic dessert. The light, crunchy texture makes Asian pears a perfect addition to fruit or spinach salads, according to www.specialtyproduce.com.

The Asian pear maintains its flavor and texture long after harvest. A sweet aroma is the best indication of ripeness. Educate customers on this point since, unlike many fruits, Asian pears don’t yield to mild pressure when ripe.

The fruit has been increasing in popularity because of its use on restaurant menus, says Bob Harrington, co-owner of Specialty Produce, San Diego. Increase retail sales by sampling.

“I would say the best thing is to build around a demo program,” Harrington says. “When a consumer walks in and sees something, it’s hard for them to know what it is unless it’s indigenous within their heritage and history. In order to be really successful, you would have to demo that (item).”

Sampling is especially effective in the U.S. because of shoppers’ mixed cultural heritage. Asian pears are used in different ways in different cultures, says Ronald Zamora, vice president of Cooseman’s Miami Inc., Miami. Once the fruit becomes a topic of interest and discussion, customers will compare notes on the different ways fruits are used in different cuisines.

Besides sampling, flashcards, information cards and suggestion boxes encourage customers to try something new, says Jason Marchuk, produce supervisor and operator at Athabasca Super A, Athabasca, Alberta. Explain the nutrition, uses, and growing areas and conditions.

Asian pears often sell especially well during the fall season when kids head back to school. Marchuck groups the fruit with persimmons, pomegranates, organics and other pears. They’re not necessarily exotic, but Asian pears add variety and become a point of interest. Marchuck sells about a case a week of Asian pears at $3.29-3.49 each.

At Macey’s in Salt Lake City, one of 10 stores operated by Associated Food Stores Inc., Asian pears are displayed in two locations, says Brad Mifflin, produce manager. Display Asian pears with the other pears so there is a destination for all pear varieties. Or put them in the Asian section with items like sugar peas, snap peas, bean sprouts, wontons, egg rolls and tofu. Macey’s normally sells five to six cases a week at $1.79 each. The store sells an additional 15 cases on Fridays and Saturdays alone when sampling is offered on those days.