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CMI ready to fill empty pear pipeline

By the time Columbia Marketing International, based in Wenatchee, WA, is ready to harvest its first pears of the 2011-12 season, the pipeline will be empty. “Import pears are cleaning up,” Vice President of Marketing Bob Mast told The Produce News July 26. “People want to get into the new pear crop as soon as they can.”

The timing of the situation is equally intriguing because of the extended cherry deal in the Pacific Northwest. “It’s been an interesting year. There’s an overlap with cherries because of the late season,” Mr. Mast stated. “The later cherry deal is picking up steam.”

Word from growers is that the pear harvest will be delayed by two weeks due to cool and wet weather during the production season. But Mr. Mast said his enthusiasm is not dampened. While the industry is expecting smaller sizes this year, Mr. Mast had a slightly different take on the situation following some recent orchard tours. “The trees are not heat stressed,” he commented. “I saw good growth for apples and pears. I think we’ll be surprised [about sizing]. So far, it looks nice and clean. It’s shaping up to be a nice, clean year.”

The Green Bartlett harvest will begin the first week of September. Other varieties will follow suit.

CMI markets a full pear manifest to its global customers under the “CMI” label. Approximately 30 percent of the company’s overall volume is sold to export markets.

In addition to its conventional product, CMI grows organic pears. “We had a fairly significant increase last year,” Mr. Mast said of ramped-up production. Organic pears are marketed under the “Daisy Girl” label.

CMI has created “Orchard Fresh” secondary display bins, “Pick A Pear” bins and tote bags to showcase its pears. The company is also developing specific promotions for specific varieties to increase sales at retail.

“Pears are totally an impulse item,” Mr. Mast said, adding that CMI continues to explore programs that get pears into the hands of younger shoppers.

In the past, wine and cheese pairing promotions have stimulated interest among this market sector. According to Mr. Mast, the events were highly successful, and CMI plans to continue the promotion this season.