The Northwest pear industry is quick to note its counterpart in apples has struck gold in the foodservice business through slicing.
Pear growers and shippers acknowledge their product doesn’t have the affinity — or the market — for slicing that the apple has, but they’re not giving up on foodservice as a viable marketplace for their fruit.
“I think we should continue to grow the foodservice side of our business, and we can,” said Tim Evans, general sales manager of Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh Marketing.
There are foodservice applications for pears in salads, as desserts and even as part of entrees.
“We’ve had some very good growth over the last couple of years and it looks promising for the future,” Evans said.
He also said a lot more education is needed.
The Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest has been thinking along the same lines.
The bureau recently launched a foodservice-focused portal on its www.usapears.org website.
“It has already attracted a lot of interest,” said Cristie Mather, the bureau’s communications director.
The site, www.foodservice.usapears.org, offers an array of recipes, grower profiles, handling tips and other insights into the fruit, Mather said.
“Anything a foodservice operators or distributor would want can be found there,” Mather said.
Having seen the inroads sliced apples were making in the foodservice sector, particularly in the quick-service arena, the bureau hired market research firm Mintel to track pear use in restaurants, and the data Mintel brought back was instructive, Mather said.
“We do see significant increases in pear appearances on foodservice menus, especially in the fourth quarter, year over year,” she said.
Mather said Mintel found the number of pears mentioned as an ingredient on fourth-quarter menus increased by more than 40% from 2009-11 in both chain and independently owned restaurants.
She said pears often were served with “upscale protein” items.
“Instead of beef, we’re seeing them paired with lamb. Instead of chicken, they’re being served with duck,” she said.
Pears also are being served “closer to the center of the plate” more often than before, Mather said.
“They’re being served in chutneys, with the protein, and also see increases in desserts, salads and appetizers,” Mather said.
Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. moves a lot of smaller-sized pears to foodservice destinations, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.
“We’ve seen pears in the white-tablecloth restaurants in the foodservice world, and they’ve done quite well there,” he said.
“When you’re talking about white-tablecloth, you’re not moving a lot of volume. It takes a lot of salads to take up a case of pears,” he said.
Pears meld with a trend toward more healthful offerings, said Maureen Royal, saleswoman with organic produce distributor Bridges Produce, Portland, Ore.
“More and more restaurants are incorporating fresh fruit, and, in particular local, organic apples and pears into their specialty recipes for entrees as well as desserts,” Royal said.
Consumers are asking for those items, Royal said.
“They patronize and support the restaurants that are doing this,” she said.
As for slicing, there’s an ongoing hope that such a market will someday materialize for pears, said David Garcia, chief executive officer with Hood River, Ore.-based Diamond Fruit Growers.