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The pear harvest is officially underway in Washington state, and Stemilt Growers is enthusiastic about the high-quality pears that will fill store shelves this season.

In addition to consumer favorites, like Bartlett and d'Anjou, Stemilt expects specialty varieties, like Asian pears, to provide retailers with a boost in sales this fall.

According to Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt, Asian pears comprise a large group of pear varieties that have the same crunch, shape and juicy qualities as apples with the rich, floral-like taste of pears. Like European varieties, Asian pears are fat-free, an excellent source of fiber and full of antioxidants.

"Even though they make up a small percentage of what looks to be a near- record Northwest pear crop, Asian pears are a unique, kid-friendly item ideal for retail promotions during the fall months," Mr. Pepperl said in an Aug. 25 press release.

Nearly two-thirds of Stemilt's Asian pears are grown organically. This year, the majority of these organic pears will be packed in Kraft-based cartons under the "Artisan Organics" banner. The cartons hold either one or two layers of "socked" Asian pears and are made with environmentally friendly Kraft paper, which requires 5 percent less wood fiber and 20 percent less water in production than boxes built from white paper.

"These cartons not only help differentiate this product as organic in retail displays, but they also convey Stemilt's ongoing commitment to the environment through our Responsible Choice program," Mr. Pepperl added in the press release.

Stemilt's organic Asian pears are grown primarily by Jeff and Kristine Boullioun, who own and operate Busy Bee Orchards in Oroville, WA. The Boulliouns grow pears under ideal climate conditions, have over a decade of experience farming pears organically and take extra measures to ensure quality comes first.

"In addition to dealing with the challenges that come with raising 11 different varieties of Asian pears organically, the Boulliouns individually sock and hand-pack each pear to prevent bruising and deliver the most premium product to consumers," said Mr. Pepperl.

Stemilt's Asian pear harvest was scheduled to kick off Sept. 1 at Busy Bee. The Boulliouns will make their way through 58 acres of Asian pear varieties, including well-known Hosui, 20th Century, Shinko and Kosui.

According to Mr. Pepperl, both conventional and organic Asian pears will be promotable at retail until the end of December. "These pears ripen on the tree and maintain a crisp texture in cold storage. Their apple-like qualities and pear flavor make them a winner among kids, while parents like them for the many nutritional benefits they provide."