(Sept. 9) If you’re not promoting pears, you could be missing out on significant sales potential.

With U.S. per capita consumption of fresh pears a measly 3.5 pounds a year — compared to 18 pounds for apples, for example — there’s plenty of room for growth.

The Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore., has been collecting data for three years and updated its consumer research this spring, says Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer.

The data revealed that only 14% of shoppers go to the supermarket with the intention of picking up a pear. What that means, Moffitt says, is that you should merchandise pears in a prominent position where you traditionally display nonimpulse items like bananas. Bananas don’t drive incremental sales, he says. Pears do. One-third of consumers buy 90% of the pears, he says, “so there is a huge upside potential.”

Category management is “the driving force behind what everybody is doing” in the pear category, says Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board, Sacramento.

Based on information the board has gathered, Zanobini recommends that you display a variety of pears and cross-promote them with items inside and outside the department.

For example, packaged salads are natural tie-ins with pears, he says. Toss in some cheese or nut products, almond toppers and dressings, too.

Though 70% of pears still are eaten out of hand, Zanobini says they’re showing up more frequently in salads at fine restaurants, and the board has received much interest in its recipes that tout pears in salads.

He sees this as an opportunity to gain incremental pear sales in July and August when the California crop is just getting under way.

PRECONDITIONED PEARS

One of the best ways to get consumers to buy more pears is to offer the fruit — especially the anjou variety — in ready-to-eat condition.

Preripening is the category’s biggest breakthrough, says Steve Terry, director of sales and marketing at Chelan Fruit Co., Chelan, Wash.

“The anjou is like a rock if you don’t ripen it,” he says. And many consumers, especially those outside the Northwest, have no idea how to do that. Unlike bartletts, which turn from green to yellow as they ripen, anjous maintain their distinctive green color.

Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, Wash., has seen volume of preconditioned anjous increase tenfold in the past couple of years, says Mike Hambelton, vice president of marketing, and the company is experimenting with preconditioned bosc pears.

At least 20 chains buy preconditioned pears or ripen them in their own banana or tomato ripening rooms, says the pear bureau’s Moffitt.

SHOPPERS IMPRESSED

You can enhance pear sales through in-store sampling, too, says Steve Duello, director of produce operations for Dierbergs Markets Inc., Chesterfield, Mo.

He worked with representative David Anderson and the California Pear Advisory Board in October to bring several California pear growers to Missouri to conduct in-store sampling.

“Anytime we can put a face behind a product and personalize it,” Duello says, “we go a long way to making it more special.”

Eight growers formed two-member teams that put on five-hour demo events at 12 of Dierbergs’ 21 stores over three days, says Christine Aguiar, the board’s marketing and promotions manager.

Duello alerted store managers and produce staff that the growers were coming, made overhead signs and put up floor stands announcing the event and telling about the visitors and their farms. The chain’s ad featured pears on sale for 88 cents a pound.

The occasion was highly anticipated by customers, who were impressed that the farmers would go to such lengths to talk about their product. Some shoppers asked to see the visitors’ driver’s licenses to prove that they came all the way from California.

“Once people try a pear that is ripened correctly, they’re likely to buy again,” Duello says.

Sales doubled and even tripled at some stores during the sampling event and continued to enjoy a “substantial lift” even after the farmers returned home, Duello says.

Zupan Market, a group of six Oregon stores based in Vancouver, Wash., also is heavy into sampling. The stores sample cut pears daily in domed sampling trays, says Bruce Brotherton, director of produce. It’s a technique that works but requires constant monitoring.

“You have to be dedicated to it,” he says.

In the fall during peak season, the stores typically stock nine varieties of pears, including the best-selling green anjou.

Produce managers merchandise pears in an 8- by 4-foot section with more space given to whichever varieties are selling best. They rotate riper product to the front of the display, since customers have different preferences as to how ripe and crunchy they want their pears.

Zupan features pears on ad twice a month during October and November for about half the regular price, which varies by size and variety.

Since his customers live in the pear capital of the U.S., they’re familiar with ripening techniques, Brotherton says, so it’s not necessary to offer preripened product. But he recommends it for retailers in other parts of the country.