Preconditioning boosts sales of early bartletts

07/16/2012 03:51:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

When it comes to California bartlett pears, green isn’t necessarily the color of money.

Displaying fruit that is “breaking” — just beginning to turn yellow — could help increase sales, according to the Sacramento-based California Pear Advisory Board.

Three out of four consumers said they preferred bartletts with more yellow and less green, according to a survey conducted by the pear board.

About half of consumers surveyed said they used appearance as the main characteristic when picking out pears.

Bartletts are picked when mature but not yet ripe.

Much like bananas and avocados, bartletts need a little help with ripening through preconditioning, which involves 24-36 hours of exposure to controlled amounts of ethylene.

Ethylene prompts chemical reactions that convert starch to sugar, said Dennis Kihlstadius, with Produce Technical Services, Bemidji, Minn., a ripening consultant to the board until last year.

Especially early pears

Preconditioning is especially important during about the first few weeks of the season, he said.

“All pears can benefit from it, but we go by the pressure,” Kihlstadius said. “You can do it throughout the season, but the early part is really important with the River (District) fruit. Those bartletts in the beginning don’t taste as good as when you run them through the ethylene.”

The California bartlett season typically starts in the River District south of Sacramento and moves into the Mountain District, including Mendocino and Lake counties, a couple weeks later.

Several large retailers have their own pear preconditioning programs, and a handful of large grower-packer-shippers also offer preconditioned fruit, Kihlstadius said.

Greene & Hemly Inc. added preconditioning rooms to its Courtland packing facility several years ago, and the move has worked out well, said Atomic Torosian, a partner in Crown Jewels Produce LLC, Fresno, Calif., which handles sales of conventionally grown pears for Greene & Hemly.

“It works to our benefit ― we can court chains that want fruit that will start to ripen,” Torosian said. “We’ve had good success with the receivers that request it.”

He said they follow the guidelines developed by Kihlstadius and use preconditioning for the first few weeks of the season on River District bartletts. The actual duration depends on internal fruit pressure readings.

New preconditioning room

David J. Elliot & Son, Courtland, added 50,000 square feet of cold storage this year that also included a preconditioning room, said David Thiessen, sales manager. The move will allow them to better meet customer needs.

“A lot of retailers insist on preconditioning on the front end,” he said. “Often, if you don’t, it just takes too much time to ripen.”

The firm, which ships from the River District, preconditions most of its bartletts for about the first 10 days of the season.

Breaking bartletts

The pear board sponsored a study during July and August that involved 40 stores within two regional grocery chains.

Stores with displays of breaking bartletts that had been preconditioned using ethylene outperformed stores that displayed untreated green bartletts 3:1.

The treated pears resulted in 18% greater volume sales than untreated bartletts, according to the study.

When pears were advertised, treated bartletts outperformed untreated pears by as much as 52%.

However, preconditioned bartletts require extra care when handling because they bruise easier than untreated fruit, according to the pear board.



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