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Ripe for Growth

Enticing cross-promotions, strategic retailer initiatives, and new products and packaging are bringing fresh energy to the pear category.

In an effort to drive sales of pears and more, the Pear Bureau Northwest has launched PearUp! A key cross-promotional initiative for the Milwaukie, Ore.-based nonprofit, the program creates partnerships with other suppliers to add value for consumers and retailers alike.

Last year, the bureau partnered with Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. to create recipes and a cross-promotion with cereal. “We added a display contest promotion and merchandising training to the program to maximize the educational value for produce staff and increase pear shopper experience,” explains Kathy Stephenson, the bureau’s marketing communications director.

This year, the bureau, which promotes Washington state and Oregon pears under the USA Pears label, will partner with a wine brand to incentivize customers to purchase both products.

“Pears are a great pairing food,” agrees Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers, in Wenatchee, Wash. “We encourage cross-promotions with gourmet cheese and wine. They are also the perfect food for party platters, and cross-promoting is a great way to boost sales on multiple items, especially around the holidays.”

Grocers considering such a cross-promotion can take advantage of the Pear Bureau Northwest’s Pear, Wine and Cheese wheel, which creates appropriate matchups for consumers right in the produce department. Retailers around the country, including Wellesley, Mass.-based Roche Bros., have featured the wheel in pear displays.

To further maximize sales, the bureau is currently meeting with top retailers and wholesalers to analyze pear category performance and identify opportunity gaps.

“Some retailers will be encouraged to add more varieties to their category, expand their display square footage, move pears closer to the front to encourage impulse purchase, and develop cross-promotions or secondary displays to pair with other complementary products,” reveals Stephenson.

Ready to Eat

“The biggest barrier to a perfect pear-eating experience is the process of ripening pears,” asserts Stephenson. “We won’t rest until all pear consumers know our simple trick.” It’s simply to keep pears at room temperature on the counter to ripen.

The bureau also advises consumers to “Check the Neck” near the stem of a pear on a daily basis. If it gives to pressure, it’s ripe and ready to eat.

“We use so many communication platforms to share this message, including in-store signage and in-store radio; one-on-one education during store demos; consumer outreach through events, website and social media; and, finally, print and digital advertising directly to consumers,” notes Stephenson.

Promoting ripe pears at retail is also a priority for Chelan Fresh this year. “Historically, the pear category has not seen a whole lot of excitement, but we’re trying to change that with upscale packaging and educating consumers on ripe pears,” says Mac Riggan, VP of marketing for Chelan Fresh, in Chelan, Wash.

“The key for pears is that they are eaten ripe,” continues Riggan. “At store, they are seldom sold at perfect eating [condition]. But people don’t want to wait; they want to take home the pear and eat it that day.”

While Riggan appreciates that some grocers are concerned with the appearance of ripe pears and the higher shrink associated with them, he also sees the growth potential for the category, and is keen to work with retailers on a pre-conditioned program that starts the ripening process in the warehouse.

“Retailers just need to get over the initial bubble that exists between the higher shrink of ripe pears and the sales increase that occurs when customers realize what an incredible experience it is to bite into a ripe pear and have the juice drip down their chin,” he explains.

At Stemilt, promoting ripe pears is also top of mind. “We encourage all retailers to carry Ripe-Rite ready-to-eat pears, which means conditioned d’Anjou and red d’Anjou pears,” says Shales. “Carrying ripened pears speeds up the time that consumers can take the fruit home, enjoy it and come back to the store to purchase again.”

Stocking ripe pears in the produce department can boost sales by as much as 16 percent versus not carrying conditioned pears, according to Shales. “In a category that needs consistent movement, it’s important to carry conditioned pears and message them as ready to eat to consumers,” she notes.

Variety and Pretty Packaging

As consumers continue to look for new eating experiences, additional pear varieties are gaining traction. “The most known pears include the Bartlett, Anjou and Bosc pears, but red pears are earning some notoriety,” observes Stephenson, who adds that red pears add an attractive color break to the category.

For three years, the Pear Bureau Northwest has sponsored the Pear Up with USA Pears retail display contest, with colorful and creative results. Williamsville, N.Y.– based Tops Markets was recognized for its striking display of Bosc, Starkrimson and Bartlett pears, while Mirbitos IGA, in Hannibal, N.Y., created a winning Partridge in a Pear Tree display.

Another trend for pears, adds Stephenson, is the proliferation of 2- to-5-pound bags and pouches. “It is not uncommon for our best shoppers to buy as many as 10 pears at a time,” she asserts.

Chelan Fresh has introduced 2-pound pouch bags of its Organic Bosc pears. It also offers Anjou and Bartlett pears in 3-pound bags.

In addition to offering new Tosca and Concorde varieties, as well as an organic line of pears through its Lil Snappers kid-sized fruit program, Stemilt has debuted a pop-up merchandising display that promotes its Rushing Rivers pears and the regions in which they’re grown.

“This helps retailers tell the story of where pears come from and how they are grown — the farm-to-fork story that consumers want to know, especially with their produce,” enthuses Shales.

The company has also launched a 5-pound pouch bag that promotes the Rushing Rivers story, for pears that ship in display-ready containers. “It’s a great in-and-out promotion to capture a higher ring and boost the pear category,” she adds.

Because a typical pear tree takes eight to 10 years to reach production, propagating new varieties takes time. However, Stephenson tells retailers to watch for new heirloom varieties from Washington state and Oregon over the next several years.

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