(Sept. 3) Larger sizes and outstanding taste are the highlights, grower-shippers said, as the California Asian pear crop hit mid-season form. Prices are climbing, they said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on Aug. 26 that San Joaquin Valley single-layer carton f.ob.s for hosuis size 12 were $11.75-12, 14s were $10-11, 16s were $9-10 and 20s were $8. Last year at the same time that variety was $12.50-14 for 12s, $10-12 for 14s and 15s, $9-11 on 17s and $8-9 for 20s. Supplies of the shinseiki variety were insufficient to establish market.

Some grower-shippers began picking the season opening variety, shinsui, in early July. Harvesting of later varieties will continue through October, grower-shippers said. But because the fruit stores well, larger producers will have supplies available through the holidays and into the new year.

“This is a very clean crop, and the sizes are larger than last year,” said Doug Phillips, owner of Phillips Farms Marketing, Visalia, Calif.

The crop has a nice size profile with lots of 14s, 16s and 18s, Phillips said.

“Actually we’re finding that we’re a little short occasionally for the customers who want the smaller sizes,” he said. “But all of the fruit has excellent flavor and color.”

Phillips Farms Marketing has switched most of its Asian pear packing to single -layer cartons with each pear in a protective sock, which Phillips said makes the fruit better able to endure shipping and handling.

“It also makes a very nice retail display,” he said.

Phillips Farms Marketing also packs two-layer cartons and six-count clamshells.

The company had just started harvesting shinkos, Phillips said Aug. 29. The picking of later varieties continues well into October, he said. Phillips Farms Marketing plans to have the fruit available through January and, perhaps, into February.

At Dinuba, Calif.-based Fruit Patch Sales Inc., picking of the shin li variety began Aug. 28, said Mike Crookshank, fall commodity manager. The variety joins the hosuis in the Fruit Patch inventory. The shin li harvest continues through October, Crookshank said, and Fruit Patch plans to have Asian pear supplies through early November, he said.

Nearly all of the Fruit Patch fruit is packed in socks and single-layer cartons, Crookshank said.

Dayka & Hackett LLC, Reedley, Calif. plans to have supplies of hosuis and shinkos into November, said salesman Julian Lipschitz.

“We don’t have a big Asian pear program, but the quality is good and sizing is decent,” he said.

Scattaglia Growers and Shippers LLC, Traver, Calif., expects to have supplies of Asian pears available up to November, said Dave Parker, director of marketing.

Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, produces more than half of the state’s volume. The company was in the final days of picking its proprietary variety, crunchy gold, Aug. 29, said salesman Brian Hofer. He predicted supplies of the variety would be sold out by the third week in September.

Harvesting of honey golds began in mid-August at Kingsburg Orchards, Hofer said, with shin lis and yalis coming out of the orchard about Sept. 1. The harvest start for shinkos was scheduled for Sept. 6, he said, with Wilson yellows to start about Sept. 10.

“The quality is outstanding this season,” Hofer said. “The flavor is very sweet and the fruit is loaded with juice.”

Kingsburg Orchards plans to have ample supplies of Asian pears through February, he said.

“Now’s the time for retailers to get them,” Hofer said. “They’re the perfect fruit for the kids’ lunch boxes; they go great in salads and with cheese and wine.”

Phillips echoed that view. It is a very versatile fruit that complements lots of meals, especially hot, spicy foods, he said. More grower-shippers are calling them apple pears, Phillips said, and for good reason.

“Retailers are missing a good fruit,” he said. “But they must educate consumers that apple pears are to be eaten when they’re firm and crunchy like an apple — not soft like European pears.”

Another of the fruit’s virtues is long shelf life in the stores, and they can keep in a refrigerator for several weeks, he said.

“If retailers more strongly promoted Asian pears and displayed them with apples and pears — as opposed to marketing them as a specialty item — they’d get more repeat sales,” Lipschitz said.

California Asian pear prices on the rise
A worker harvests crunchy gold Asian pears, the newest proprietary variety from Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, Calif. Crunchy gold was 10 years in development, says Dan Spain, the company's vice president of sales and marketing. Unlike most Asian pears, the variety does not have to be peeled before eaten, Spain says.