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New study will help Chelan Fresh drive pear sales

Chelan Fresh works with family farms throughout North Central Washington to supply more than 20 varieties of fresh fruit, and although apples and cherries make up the bulk of their business, the company has been seeing an increase in pear production and sales.

“There’s a certain percentage of the population that demands that retailers carry pears, so as an apple supplier, you have to have them so you can provide the one-stop shopping for the major retailers,” said Mac Riggan, director of marketing for the Chelan, WA-based company. “The apple category is different than the pear category in that it has all these new varieties and sub varieties.”

IMG 3766However, Riggan noted the pear market is pretty steady and more millennials seem to be gravitating toward being pear consumers.

“I’m hoping that means more mouths eating them and if production stays pretty stable, it could be a profitable fruit for growers to produce,” he said. “For us, pears are probably 8 percent of our overall volume compared to apples and cherries. We think that will increase.”

Some of Chelan Fresh’s best-selling pears are the Organic Asian pears, which have nine different varieties and “sell like crazy every fall.”

“We don’t have a lot of them but there’s incredible demand and the prices they sell for kind of stun me every year. They have a halo effect on them,” Riggan said. “I’ve also been a fan of the Concorde pear, which we don’t have a lot of, but it’s one of the best tasting pears you can have. The challenge with Concorde is they tend to develop a black marking on the skin when they touch each other. It’s an inconsistent appearance and because people buy with their eyes, it’s hurt this pear variety.”

Bartlett pears are always popular because people know when they are ripe like a banana.

“The education process is simper for these and retailers understand them better,” Riggan said. “When it comes to Anjous and Red Anjous, they don’t change appearance when they are ready to eat, so that’s another challenge for our whole industry — to incorporate pre-ripening programs that are properly executed at the store level to make sure pears are repining correctly.”

Both red Anjous and green Anjous are expected to increase in volume for the company this year, and the entire pear production is projected at increasing a bit.

“We put quite a bit of money last year into a study regarding the path to purchase on sales and we are enthusiastic on taking those findings to some key retail partners and help them understand some misconceptions about pears we’ve all had,” Riggan said. “Maybe identify some missed opportunities for customers and ways to target programs in the future.”

One of the ways Chelan Fresh increases its pear business is by supplying 18 local wineries in the area with pears during the season so they can offer them to wine tasters as they come through.

“The hope is you get a lot of people coming that aren’t from the area and they will have a memorable experience sampling wine with cheese and a pear and when they go home, they will think of pears when they buy their wine,” Riggan said. “I think it’s a pretty promising program. It’s a great way to promote pear consumption.”

Chelan Fresh pears are packed in a 44-pound, bulk wrap-pack, loose in the box; a tray pack; and in two- and three-pound poly bags and pouch bags.

Outside of pears, Chelan Fresh is looking forward to the SugarBee and Rockit apple seasons, which will both have more volume this year.

It will also have some new apple varieties coming out in the future.