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Rainier Fruit Co. continues to emphasize conditioned pear program

Since introducing conditioned pears nearly a decade ago, Rainier Fruit Co. in Selah, WA, has seen significant growth in the program and, according to Marketing Director Suzanne Wolter, continues to emphasize the value of conditioned pears at retail.

“That’s where the future is. That’s where the excitement is,” Ms. Wolter told The Produce News. “People want to experience the flavor of pears, and a conditioned d’Anjou is absolutely wonderful — sweet and juicy.”

The grower-shipper first started conditioning pears in 2002, using Smart-Air Trailers. Realizing the potential for conditioned, or ripened, pears, Rainier installed permanent ripening rooms in 2005.

Volume of ripened pears has increased annually, and Ms. Wolter said that d’Anjous still lead the pack in terms of varieties conditioned prior to retail delivery.

“We do condition Bartletts early in the season, but by January they don’t need to be ripened,” she said.

She noted that while the reception is good for conditioned pears and that retailers executing a ripe-pear program “have more than doubled their sales. We know there is still more opportunity.”

Ms. Wolter said, “According to a 2009 Perishables Group study for the Pear Bureau, space allocation of 40 percent d’Anjou, 30 percent Bartlett, 15 percent Bosc and 15 percent other varieties yields the best sales results. Also, maximizing sales of d’Anjous and Bartletts has a direct positive correlation to category performance. Therefore, those retailers looking to take their pear sales to another level by implementing a ripe-pear program also need to consider placement within the department. Simply putting the pears out with a sign isn’t enough.”

Ms. Wolter continued, “We believe it’s worthwhile to emphasize with retailers the importance of where pears are displayed. Pears are impulse items, and they need to be toward the front of the produce department, especially if the retailer is going to reintroduce conditioned pears each season or bring them in for the first time.”

The ripened pears are shipped in vented euro boxes and bear a red sticker indicating they have been conditioned.

Last season, after three years of working on it, the Pear Bureau Northwest board adopted consistency standards for pears being sold as conditioned.

“Rainer Fruit was instrumental in pushing through the conditioned standards adopted by the industry,” Ms. Wolter said. “We recognized early on that pulp temperature control and ethylene exposure were key elements of a consistent program. Ripe pears are still ‘new’ for many consumers and have the potential to change the category.”

About the 2011 season, which is up to two weeks behind “normal” and a week to 10 days later than last year’s crop, Ms. Wolter said that the Northwest expects a bigger supply of pears this year.

She said that overall, the industry is seeing a 5 percent increase in volume over the five-year average and 8 percent more than the 2010 crop, which was short.

“Rainier is up about 11 percent overall with the biggest jump on d’Anjou, which represents about 60 percent of our overall volume,” Ms. Wolter said.

“We are the largest d’Anjou producer in the Northwest, which has been an advantage in developing our ripened pear program.”

She said that the late start to the season means that conventional and organic Bartletts started Aug. 22 and will run through late January to mid-February. Conventional and organic red pears also started Aug. 22 and will run through late June.

Conventional d’Anjous started shipping Aug. 15, and organics started about Aug. 20. The conventionals will go through late July, and organics will finish earlier. Conventional Boscs started Aug. 20 and organics a week later. The pears will ship through spring.