California grower-shippers are reporting good quality and strong demand for Asian pears.

Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, Calif., began shipping Asian pears — or apple pears, as the company prefers to call them — the week of Aug. 3, said Bob Maxwell, special projects manager.

“It’s a good to very good crop,” he said. “It’s the same size as last year, maybe a few more. It’s clean, good size, solid quality.”

The company started with crunchy golds, had moved into hosuis by the second half of August, to be followed by shinkos and honey golds, Maxwell said. Kingsburg will likely have Asian pears until late March, he said.

Fruit Patch Sales Co., Dinuba, Calif., began shipping Asian pears in late July, four or five days earlier than usual, said Tony Supino, salesman.

Supino reported steady demand in late August, with demand considerably stronger for brown-skinned varieties than for yellow-skinned varieties. Overall quality was good, with sizing average, peaking on 12s and 14s, he said. Later varieties of Asian pears would likely peak on 8s and 10s, he predicted.

A 30% acreage cut in later varieties will equate to about a 5% drop in the overall size of Fruit Patch’s volumes this year, Supino said.

Given how well Asian pears keep, Maxwell said, there isn’t the urgency to sell them. And as a result, markets tend to be fairly stable, he said.

“We don’t get impatient,” he said. “Of all the items we sell, they have the least fluctuation in price. They start at $10-11, and stay at $9-11 all the time.”

On Aug. 25, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14-15 for one-layer cartons of hosuis 10s sold on the Los Angeles terminal market, up from $13 last year at the same time.

Educating consumers about Asian pears remains a work in progress, Maxwell said. The company is relying on a variety of packaging options — four-packs, six-packs, overwraps and clamshells among them — in an effort to attract shoppers.

“We feel we’ve barely scratched the surface on introducing U.S. consumers to apple pears,” he said. “We’ve got a long ways to go.”

In import news, Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group plans to kick of its Japanese tottori pear deal on the West Coast Sept. 12 and on the East Coast Oct. 1, when the first vessels of the season are scheduled to arrive, said David Nelley, the company’s pipfruit category manager.

Because of the exchange rate, the deal will likely be considerably smaller than last year, with about 12,000 boxes expected to ship, down from 18,000 in 2008, Nelley said. No weather problems have been reported in the Kobe region of Japan where the fruit is grown, he said.

Safeway stores will be the primary U.S. destinations for tottoris this season, Nelley said. The fruit will be distributed throughout the country, he said.