Pear marketers see greater mechanization, new uses

08/27/2013 09:05:00 AM
Tom Karst

WENATCHEE, Wash. — While the pear industry hasn’t seen the fast-motion changes the apple industry has experienced in the last 15 years, pear marketers believe changes are coming to how pear business is done.

One change could be the use of pears by fresh-cut processors.

Tony Freytag, chief executive officer of Cashmere-based tree fruit grower-shipper Crunch Pak, said the company is conducting ongoing research on pears.

“We have select people around the country that, when we process pears as a test, we ship them mainly on trucks to see how they are going to ride and how the flavor is,” he said.

Pears are more delicate and subject to more scuffing and bruising in transit.

In addition, consumers don’t have the same idea what fresh-cut pears should be like.

“Some people still like pears crispy, but flavors really do get enhanced as the pear ripens,” he said.

Freytag said Crunch Pak is experimenting with pressure, deliverabiliity, visual appeal and storage capability.

“We’re very confident that once we launch it, it will be the right product,” he said.

If Crunch Pak can get it right, Freytag said the market holds great potential.

“We’ve been told by some of our retailers that there is an opportunity, if we can get it right.”

Freytag said the visual appeal is one of the big challenges, and Crunch Pak is experimenting with packaging techniques to minimize damage to fresh-cut pears.

“Until it is right, you don’t do it, and we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” he said.

Changes in packing techniques may be one feature of the pear industry in five to 10 years, said Robert Wymore, vice president of operations for Diamond Fruit Growers Inc., Odell, Ore.

“Of course (labor) is a problem in the orchard. It is going to become a problem in the packing house,” Wymore said.

"As we move forward, I think we will have to look at more mechanization, more computerization, robotic packing techniques ... I think that is probably the future,” he said.

Optical sorting and sizing of pears will increase, he said.

Ten years in the pear industry is not the same as 10 years in the apple industry, tree fruit marketers believe.

“It is a slower-changing industry than apples cause it takes so long for pears to come into production,” said Ed Weathers, vice president and sales manager for Duckwall Fruit Co., Hood River, Ore. “You don’t take as many chances when it takes 20 years for an orchard to be in full production, where an apple orchard could be producing in five.”

Weathers said he thinks packaging and technology may see the biggest changes in the next five to 10 years.

Optical sorting, more robotics and automation are likely advances, he said.

Changes in the pear industry over the next decade could include increased demand from retailers for new packaging options, said Scott Marboe, director of marketing for Oneonta Trading, Wenatchee.

Marboe believes demand for red pears and conditioned pears will continue to improve.



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