Amid lighter industry crop, Stemilt expects increase over last year in pear volume
With the start of the pear harvest just “a week or so” away, Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager of Stemilt Growers LLC in Wenatchee, WA, told The Produce News Aug. 3 that while “it is still early to make a true crop prediction … what we are seeing so far on the trees is that industry-wide, the crop looks to be down” from last year. But at Stemilt, “we will actually be up in volume. We will have a good supply of pears, both among the summer varieties and the winter varieties.”
The Pacific Northwest, specifically the states of Washington and Oregon, is the leading pear producing region in the Untied States, Shales noted, and Stemilt is “a definite leader in the Northwest.”
The company also grows apples, cherries, and “some stone fruit.”
The company’s summer pear varieties begin with Tosca, a variety that is similar to Bartlett but ripens “a week or two earlier,” she said. “So we are able to jump start the season with that. We grow those all organically.” That is followed by Starkrimson, then Bartlett. There may be some “smaller sizing right out of the gate” on those early varieties, she said, but that should improve a the season goes on.
“Then we get into the winter pear varieties,” Shales said. Those start with the bronze-colored Bosc pear in September, but the major winter varieties are D’Anjou (also called Anjou) and Red D’Anjou, “which are available mainly October and beyond,” with shipping continuing into spring.
”What most retailers do is they will carry Bartletts for the front half of the season, and then as Bartletts wind down, they will substitute Anjous,” she said.
Stemilt markets its pears under the Rushing Rivers brand.
Unlike apples, which are ready to eat at the time of harvest, pears require ripening after harvest, and proper post-harvest handling to assure that the pears are ready to eat within a day or two of purchase at the retail store is a major focus for Stemilt. “We have an R&D-backed protocol to deliver that ready-to-eat pear at retail” with optimum flavor, Shales said.
D’Anjous are trickier to ripen than other pear varieties. In order to ripen properly and develop the best flavor and texture, D’Anjous must be harvested before they are fully ripe and then go through an extended and carefully-controlled cold treatment phase. “We do a lot of different things with our Anjous that help that ripening process” Shales said, “but one of the biggest advantages that we have is we have Thermal Tech [ripening] rooms at our facilities,” similar to those used for avocados and bananas. That assures consumers a good eating experience and “increases the turns and the consistency” so that consumer will buy them again, she said.
“We are doing all the little things right when it comes to pears, because we’ve had decades of experience growing them,” Shales continued. “It starts at the orchard level, where we have the right locales. We grow pears in the Entiat and Wenatchee River valleys” near the town of Wenatchee, “and they are just amazing spots for pears” with a consistent climate. Summers are warm, but a cool air flow “comes down through the valleys that really helps keep pears clean and high quality.”
After harvest, “we have a lot of fruit packaging flexibility,” Shales said. “We do a lot of forecasting, so that we are packing to order.”
Stemilt has a bag program for pears called Lil Snappers. “It actually started on the apple side,” but it was so successful that “we rolled it into pears.” It is a kid-oriented program with smaller sized premium fruit in a three-pound pouch bag. “We also do some five-pound bags of pears.” It is “a great way to bring new dollars and new volume to the category,” she said.
“In this Covid environment, we definitely have seen an increase in demand for packaged produce,” she said.