Chelan Fresh holding steady with pears
Chelan Fresh works with family farms throughout north central Washington to supply apples, cherries and pears. While the latter falls somewhat behind in total acreage, the pear category is still important for continued success.
With the pear harvest expected to start in mid-August, pear growers are readying themselves for what they hope will be a fruitful season. Although it’s too early to know about sizing and volume, there’s optimism among many in the pear industry that this season will be strong as pears do a little better in the heat than apples.
With many of the third-, fourth- and fifth-generation growers finishing their cherry harvest soon, attention turns to apples and pears. Bartlett remains the most popular pear but Chelan Fresh has seen some steady sales in green Anjous and Bosc.
Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh, noted things have been consistent in the category lately, and steady demand is still a win for the company.
“There aren’t new pear varieties like apples, but we sell what we have, and that’s keeping the category moving,” he said. “It seems like younger people do favor pears more than I thought they would — those under 30. They think pears are cool, so that helps.”
He also feels the pre-conditioning is important for pears to do well on the grocery shelves.
“Pre-conditioning is great for the customer, but they can be a challenge to handle at retail, so some retailers can get nervous about handling them, because initially your shrink could go up until your velocity of sales go up,” Riggan said.
During the pandemic, pears sold consistently, but not being part of the USDA Food Box program probably kept the category from really thriving.
“It wasn’t a big crop to begin with,” Riggan said. “One of the reasons pears aren’t prolific with new varieties is it takes almost eight years to get a tree to produce. That goes back to the old saying, ‘you plant pears for your heirs,’ because there’s not a lot of incentive in trying to get into new pear growth.”
Still, it’s an important category for the company. Charcuterie boards are on the rise, and pears are becoming popular on those.
“Bartletts do well, because people know they are ripe when they turn yellowish in color,” Riggan said. “Anjous and Bosc don’t change color. That poses a challenge because if consumers end up guessing when the pears are ready to eat, they often don’t eat as good as they should. They can be a really amazing piece of fruit, though.”
One way that Chelan Fresh has increased its pear awareness is by supplying local wineries with pears so they can offer them to wine tasters as they come through. Organic pears are also a category that does okay for the company and helps to increase sales overall.
Chelan Fresh pears are packed in a 40-pound, bulk wrap-pack, 27-pound Euro trade packs, a tray pack, and in two- and three-pound pouch bags.