(Sept. 3) WENATCHEE, Wash. — The time needed for a pear to be ready to eat off of a supermarket shelf has moved from turtle speed to a rabbit’s pace.

Like bananas, stone fruit and avocados, the pear industry is delivering more ready-to-eat pears to produce departments through a preconditioning process shippers say is revolutionizing the industry.

“The preconditioning process is changing the way pears are sold,” said John Botts, marketing specialist for Dovex Fruit Co., Wenatchee.

Shipping preconditioned fruit has helped increase the movement of anjous. This season, more retailers are requesting preripened pears, shippers say.

Half of the Northwest pear industry will ship conditioned pears this season, said Dennis James, director of marketing for the Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.

“Conditioning is a very common-sense approach for an item that has needed it a long time,” said Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee.

The process provides a more evenly ripened fruit, shippers say.

EARLY SEASON BENEFITS

Early-season bartletts benefit the most from the ripening process, said Gary Campisi, director of quality control for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.

As the season moves on, Campisi said the need for conditioning declines, since pears start ripening on their own. Wal-Mart ripens bartletts and anjous. The chain is considering other varieties, however, including red pears.

Chris Falk, salesman for apple and pear grower-shipper Washington Fruit & Produce Co., Yakima, said the ripening process works best from September through April and May.

Retailers and suppliers say they have seen sales increases in the double digits.

“What the conditioning process has done for anjous is incredible,” said Suzanne Wolter, development of business development for Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash. “It increases consumer purchasing by three to four times.”

The key, she said, is letting consumers know the store is offering something new.

“You just can’t put a conditioned pear out on the shelf and expect consumers on their own to know about it and try them.”

FLATLINED GROWTH RESUSITATED

Retailers that have seen the most sales increases have promoted the pears through advertisements, point-of-sale materials and in-store demonstrations, Wolter said.

“They have seen pear movement go off the charts. We find ourselves shipping anjous much more quickly than we used to,” said Gerry Jessup, vice president of marketing for Diamond Fruit Growers Inc., Odell, Ore.

“When you see pears that are flatlined, you have to find a way to increase consumption. This is beginning to do it.”

Safeway, Albertson’s and Kroger have been early adopters of preconditioned pears.

While most retailers have shippers condition the pears, Wal-Mart preconditions its own fruit at all of its 32 grocery distribution centers. The chain began testing preconditioning in 2002.

Wal-Mart’s bartlett and anjou sales have increased by 30% since it started selling conditioned pears, Campisi said.

Premiums shippers charge for preconditioned pears varies from nothing to $2-3 per vented 27-pound Eurocarton boxes, shippers say.

Retail prices also vary. Some retailers, like Wal-Mart, do not charge higher prices.

ORDER IN ADVANCE

Ordering ripened pears means changes for produce managers. Since conditioning is a three- to five-day process, with shippers ripening pears to order, produce managers must place orders seven to 10 days in advance.

Congdon Orchards Inc., Yakima, is increasing its preconditioned sales from one retailer last year to five this year, said Tim Madden, sales manager.

L&M will move 25% to 40% of its fruit as preconditioned anjous, said John Long, salesman in L&M’s Selah office. L&M plans to expand its preconditioning this season, Long said.

The introduction of conditioned product is helping increase consumption, said Eric Patrick, marketing director for Yakima-based Domex Marketing Co. Inc, which has three ripening trailers.

“It has introduced a lot more people to pears,” he said. “People are experiencing eating a preripened pear and saying, ‘Wow.’ They didn’t realize that this is how the fruit can taste. This is helping us develop a lot of new customers.”

Preconditioning changes pear marketing
Bo Slack, sales manager for Peshastin Hi-Up Growers Inc., Peshastin, Wash., examines pears. He says the industry is selling more preconditioned fruit.