A smaller overall Northwest pear crop than last year and Russia’s blocking of U.S. fruit may result in fewer total exports in 2014-15, but ample demand in Mexico, China and other markets should keep exports as a key component of overall movement.
Export sales were near best-ever levels for the record-setting 2013 Northwest pear crop., said Jeff Correa, international marketing director for Milwaukie, Ore.-based USA Pears.
Overall Northwest pear volume was rated at a record 22.6 million 44-pound boxes in 2013, up from the previous record of 20.8 million cartons. For 2014, the total Northwest pear crop was estimated in August at 20.2 million cartons, down 6% from the 2013 crop and about 2% up from the five-year average.
Accounting for about 40% of all volume, export sales for USA Pears for the 2013-14 season totaled about 8.8 million cartons through May. June and July statistics not been tallied in July, Correa said, Northwest exporters will at least threaten the existing export volume of 9.2 million boxes.
Nearly all Northwest U.S. pear exports are conventional fruit. Correa said importers in Singapore and Hong Kong take organic pears in small volumes. A developing e-commerce market in China could open the door for more demand for organic fruit, he said.
Correa said the Russian import ban on U.S. pears — part of broad sanctions against U.S. ag exports related to the U.S. response to Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict — will hurt.
“While we think we will be able to absorb some of the volume numbers by going to other markets, particularly Mexico, it is some of the varieties (usually sent there) may be more difficult to find similar export markets,” he said.
With Russia the No. 3 market for Northwest pears, Correa said importers there preferred second-grade red anjous and forelles. Forelle could be the top challenge, he said, but the Middle East is a possible focus.
Southeast Asia may also present opportunities for forelle.
Russia’s sanctions may not reach a pressure point until December and January, when supplies of meat and fruit could start to become scarce for the Russian consumer.
Correa said the secondary effect of the Russian import ban also likely weaken the potential for shipping to Europe. Because Europe’s growers have also been hit by the sanction, there may be increased competition with European pears in the Middle East, Asia and other export markets.
On a bright note, China opened up as a market in January 2013, with exporters sending just a few containers to the country at the end of the 2012-13 season. In the 2013-14 season, Northwest pear exporters expected to ship about 125,000 boxes to China, but large fruit helped them move more more than 180,000 boxes, he said. That put China as the seventh-largest market for the pears.
Exports to Europe, declining in recent years because of new regulations, totaled just 60,000 cartons through mid-July — only 1% of season-to-date anjou exports. Mexico is the top market for USA Pears, and Correa said it can take pretty any size of pears.
“We were able to move up retailers, even some traditional markets, into larger sizes last season,” he said.
Mexico setting a record for pear volume in 2013-14, Correa said.
“They are the No. 1 market, and they are probably 45% of total exports.”
Northwest shippers can ship to Mexico year-round, he said.
Bartlett exports are increasing to Mexico, Correa said, but winter pears represent the biggest volume to Mexico.
Brazil has been a very good market for green bartletts, Correa said, accounting for about 200,000 cartons. However, the 30-day transit time makes the market a challenge. India, the Middle East and Russia importers also like bartletts, Correa said.
“For those markets farther away, we promote the message of moving as soon as possible and not sitting on the fruit,” Correa said.
USA Pears promotes in 37 markets, with total funding from the industry and the USDA’s Market Access Program at nearly $4.5 million. That strategy of promoting in many markets is designed to help balance the dependence on Mexico for export sales, Correa said.
In many countries, the standard USA Pears presence includes in-store promotions, including point-of-sale materials, trade merchandising and education.
In larger markets — Mexico, Russia, India, China, Brazil and the Middle East — USA Pears uses billboards, radio and other media.
In India, USA Pears had a partnership with high-school cricket programs.
In the 2014-15 season, Correa said USA Pears is planning what is being a called USA Pear road show in China.
Expected to launch in October, a truck decorated with images of USA Pears will travel through several of China’s largest cities and setting up in supermarkets and malls to attract consumers who want to learn more about American pears.
The truck opens up to a reveal a stage and demonstration area, Correa said. The road show strategy has been used in Mexico for several years, Correa said.