LODI, Calif. — An air of excitement is circulating around the start of this year’s California pear crop.
Grower, shippers and marketers say they’re not sure of the exact cause, but they believe an earlier crop, a lack of storage and imported fruit on the market, and even a previous article in The Packer talking about the early start could be contributors.
The crop is estimated at about 4.5 million 36-pound-tight-fill cartons, up slightly from the 2012 crop, according to the Sacramento-based California Pear Advisory Board.
Broken down, that’s about 2.8 million from the river district, 1.2 million from the lake district and about 418,000 from the mountain district.
Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Crown Jewels Produce, Fresno, said the last week of June that he had already taken orders for California pears.
“The retailers are ready for the California bartletts to get started,” Torosian said. “They seem to be eager.”
Crown Jewels has had a long-standing relationship with Greene & Hemly, Courtland, to market its conventionally grown pears.
David Thiessen, sales manager for Courtland-based David J. Elliot & Son, said strong demand, coupled with an end to offshore and Northwest fruit, should boost demand.
“A new product always creates new excitement in the produce section,” he said.
Torosian said he expected the first starkrimsons to be picked July 3, followed by bartletts July 8.
All of the early fruit will be preconditioned to provide a good eating experience for consumers, he said.
As the month progresses, other varieties, such as bosc, comice and taylors gold, will begin to mature.
Crown Jewels also has a large apple program, beginning with gala, that runs concurrently with the pears. In addition, the marketer offers melons, year-round grapes and pomegranates.
“So we’re in a lot of different things, and we have a full shopping cart to fill our retail trading partners’ needs,” he said. “We’re mixing a lot of our fruit down in Reedley.”
That way, Crown Jewels can offer retailers mixed loads from its cold storage in the Central Valley.
Ken Carter, chief marketing officer for Rivermaid Trading Co., Lodi, said he saw a small amount of excitement last year before the California harvest.
He’s seeing more this season.
“It’s just a function of when the Northwest and imports end,” he said. “I think with all of the data retailers are able to extract that bartletts are still an American favorite. So any time there’s a new crop of bartletts, they’re always excited about it.
“I think it goes back to flavor. The older storage fruit or (pears) shipped from the Southern Hemisphere are getting pretty tired.”
The fact that the California crop is starting 10 days to two weeks ahead of the past few seasons also means retailers will have more time to capitalize on California pears, said Dave Parker, marketing adviser.
Rivermaid planned to start harvest of starkrimson July 1-3, followed by bartletts July 8 or 9.
Bosc, comice and other varieties will be harvested in late July, with french butters beginning early August.
“We have a complete variety program for retailers who are interested in putting out an intriguing pear display for the shoppers who are really pear aficionados,” Parker said.
Good mix of sizes
Kyle Persky, sales manager for Finley-based Scully Packing Co. LLC, said this year’s crop is similar to that of 2011, which saw a nice mix of sizes.
“Last year peaked on large fruit,” he said. “This year is more in the nature of 100s to 110s. Generally, domestic chains prefer the 100s and larger, and the various export markets like the 110s. So this manifest should be successful for all markets.”
Some foodservice operations even like the smallish 135s, which were tight last year.
But this year, it won’t be a problem.
“So this should allow for a better manifest for the total pear market,” Persky said.
David J. Elliot & Son should harvest about 15% more bartletts from its river district orchards this year because of increased acreage and a better than average per-acre yield, Thiessen said.
Quality also should be very good, since there weren’t any hail or other weather-related issues during the growing season.
Early on, Thiessen said he expects sizes to average 110s and 100s. As the crop progresses, sizes should increase, probably peaking on 100s and 90s.
Steve Johnson, marketing director for Johnson Family Ranch, Ukiah, said harvest in the mountain district should begin about July 25, a week to 10 days earlier than the past few years.
He said he expects this season to be “solid,” as it has the past couple years.
“In general, it looks like the whole market seems pretty stable, which is good for everybody,” Johnson said. “The pear market the last couple of years is in better shape than it had been.”