Smaller California-grown Asian pears are generating strong demand.

Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc., Madera, Calif., reported a good transition from Chilean to California Asian pears in the second half of August, said salesman Joel Salazar.

"There was a little bit of overlap, but the nice thing is California is looking pretty nice now, coming out a lot stronger than the end of the Chilean deal."

Chilean fruit was heavy on large fruit, with sizes peaking on 8s, 10s and 12s, Salazar said. At the beginning of the California deal, sizes were leaning more toward 14s and 16s on hosuis, which have become a more attractive option for U.S. retailers.

"They used to like the bigger fruit, but they can get a good price now for medium-sized fruit," Salazar said.

Drought could be a reason why fruit is smaller this year.

Western Fresh began shipping California Asian pears in volume the week of Aug. 24. The company hopes that, despite an early start this year, shipments will continue into at least January, Salazar said.

Western Fresh is hoping for similar volumes this year, though the smaller size profile could make that a challenge.

World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles, which markets under the Melissa"s label, began shipping California Asian pears in early July and expects to ship through February, said Robert Schueller, public relations director.

"It looks to be a normal Asian pear season, with access to a good amount of weekly volume and a steady demand for all sizes."

World Variety was shipping mainly 12s, 16s and 18s as of Aug. 25, Schueller said.

On Aug. 25, one-layer cartons of California hosuis 12s sold for $16.50-17.25 on the Los Angeles terminal market. Last year at the same time, hosui 18s sold for $15-16.

Harvests of Korean Asian pears imported by Kelton, Pa.-based I Love Produce should begin in September, said David Kim, a New York-based salesman for the company.

I Love Produce will bring in several varieties, but singos, also known as sinkos, will make up the bulk of the company"s volumes, Kim said.

The first Korean variety out of the gate, won-hwangs, a brown-skinned variety, should be available in mid- to late September in the U.S., in time for the Asian moon festival Sept. 27, Kim said.

Singos, which feature longer shelf life and brix levels expected as high as 14, should be available in the U.S. from I Love Produce from mid-October into April.

In addition to its Korean Asian pear program, I Love Produce imports golden and singo asian pears from China, said Jim Provost, the company"s president.

For the second season, I Love Produce"s Chinese Asian pears will ship in packs bearing Sesame Street Workshop Eat Brighter! graphics, Provost said.