Consumer interest in California-grown organic pears continues to grow, and this season is no exception.

An empty pipeline and overall growth of the organic category have united to create pent-up demand for the crop, grower-packer-shippers said.

“Organic (pear) demand is outstanding,” said Kyle Persky, sales manager at Finley, Calif.-based Scully Packing Co. LLC.

Scully Packing markets organic bartletts under the Lake County Diamond label, which also denotes the fruit’s origin.

Lake County, part of the Mountain District, is expected to start harvest about the week of Aug. 13. Scully Packing plans to handle about the same volume of organic bartletts this year as last, he said.

Marketing tool

Persky said part of the growing demand for organic pears is due to select retailers using the overall category as a marketing tool.

“There are some large chains that are trying to differentiate themselves from other large chains, and organic is a way to bring people into the stores,” he said.

Matt Roberts, sales manager for CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash., which handles sales for Greene & Hemly Inc.’s Viva Tierra label, said weather conditions have been nearly ideal this season.

“All in all, they’re expecting a nice, strong crop with pretty good size,” he said.

Courtland, Calif.-based Greene & Hemly grows bartletts and boscs using certified organic methods.

Strong opening market

The Pacific Northwest should be done by the start of the California season, and it appears Argentina also will have exited the market, Roberts said.

That, coupled with a relatively stable supply of organic California pears in recent years, has set the stage for a strong opening market, he said.

“It’s hard to convert pears and grow them organically,” Roberts said. “Demand keeps growing, so that’s been great. Right now we’re in a situation where demand has caught up with supply. That can change if the economy tanks again.”

Spurred by a strong demand, David J. Elliot & Son, Courtland, began converting some pear acreage that includes bartletts, golden boscs, red pears and seckels to organic this season.

The transition takes three years before the pears can be certified organic.

“It’s a growing market, and we’re trying to serve our customers,” said David Thiessen, sales manager. “There’s always going to be a demand for organic fruit, and it does seem to be an area that’s growing.”