David J. Elliot & Son expects window of opportunity for California pears

pearspears33 David J. Elliot & Son – Stillwater Orchards has been farming pears since the 1860s. It is one of the last family-owned and operated pear growers and shippers in California, packing only what it grows.

“This allows us to control quality and safety from the orchard to the store shelves,” said Larelle Miller, sales manager for the Courtland, CA-based company. “We farm more than 1,600 acres of pears, cherries, almonds and kiwi. The majority of our acreage is pears — Bartletts, Organic Bartletts, Golden Bosc, Reds, French Butter, Seckels and Comice.”

For the upcoming pear crop, the overall Bartlett numbers are down 10-15 percent from last year, though the quality looks great. 

“The Golden Bosc crop is also down,” Miller said. “The Reds, Comice, French Butter and Seckel crops look better than they have. We had a severe fire blight problem three years ago that wiped them out, but they are coming back stronger for 2020.”

Furthermore, she noted the imports seem to be cleaning up fairly well, which leaves a pretty good window of opportunity for California. 

Miller, who has worked in the pear industry for more than 30 years, first started working for the Elliot family in 2016.

“I have seen a lot of changes within the industry, most notably the shrinking window for California pears,” she said. “California pears have lost some of their relevance within the industry due to a number of factors. Imports and Northwest D’Anjous that sit on the shelves for longer than they should. When pears don’t ripen properly and they are out there 12 months out of the year, it causes confusion on what a ripe pear should be.”

That’s why she noted it’s important to educate the consumer on what a good pear tastes like and that Bartlett Pears are a summer fruit. 

Having been in the business for so long, the company understands that success with pears comes from being early. 

“Offering a quality pear that ripens properly and tastes good,” Miller said. “Having a mix of varietals to complement the Bartlett is important as well.”

So is offering a variety of pack styles — bulk and bags — to give customers an option. In 2020, consumer packs on in more demand, which Miller attributes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking of the coronavirus, David J. Elliot & Son has implemented a number of new safety practices, following the guidelines provided by the state and local governments. 

“The challenges brought on by COVID-19 could play a factor in what happens in the category this season,” Miller said. “Back in the early days of the pandemic, it depended on who you talked to, but pears overall did not move real well. Pears tend to be an impulse item, not a grocery list staple. A lot of produce commodities are short right now — Northwest cherries, melons, corn, California grapes, which are later than normal. There could be some great opportunities at retail to get consumers excited about summer pears.”

For that to happen, Miller noted retailers should be using large displays to highlight the pears.

“If pears are out there front-and-center in the store or in your face for the on-line shoppers, they sell well,” she said. “Options for bulk and bags are also important. Bags are a great opportunity for retailers to increase sales.”

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