US pear growers promote fresh pears for Chinese Spring Holiday

Updated: 2014-01-29 08:58

By YU WEI in San Francisco

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Ahead of the weeklong Lunar New Year celebration, US Northwest pear growers and industry officials are looking forward to increased demand for a variety of fresh US pears during China's holiday shopping season.

"We are planning promotion activities to celebrate the holiday," said Lynsey Kennedy, international marketing manager at Pear Bureau Northwest, a nonprofit marketing organization that promotes fresh US pears grown in Washington and Oregon, home to 84 percent of the US' pear crop.

In light of this, the first so-called "God of Wealth" promotion launched in Shanghai last weekend. The China representative office of Pear Bureau Northwest arranged a promoter, dressing in costume as the God of Wealth in Chinese mythology, to pay courtesy visits to six key supermarkets in Shanghai to encourage consumers there to taste US pears and hand out auspicious souvenirs.

US pears entered the Chinese market last February after an agreement between the two countries allowed access of US-grown pears into China for the first time in history.

"Last season, 6,611 boxes (44 lbs or equivalent) were exported to China, and during the current season, which began in September, we have already shipped 138,526 boxes to date," Kennedy said.

Although China is currently the 7th largest export market for US pears, Kennedy said she expects the market to continue to grow as consumer and trade awareness and demand increases.

"The red varieties — Starkrimson and Red Anjou — have been popular in China due to their auspicious color in local culture," she said. In addition, the Chinese name for "pears" reads like "fortune" in the Chinese language. These qualities make US pears a great fruit choice for Chinese consumers during the Spring Festival, she explained.

Increasing purchasing power and nutritional awareness among Chinese consumers also contribute to a higher demand for US pears.

"With regard to nutrition, US pears are an excellent source of fiber and a good source of vitamin C for only 100 calories per medium sized pear," Kennedy explained. "Sweet and juicy with no fat, no sodium, and no cholesterol, pears are a perfect choice for a snack, but are also very versatile and can be used in recipes for any meal of the day."

When US pears successfully debuted in China last February, US fruit exporters expected the Chinese mainland to rank among the top five export markets for pears from the US within two to three seasons.

"The biggest challenge is the fact that US pear varieties are not well known to Chinese consumers or even many fruit importers and wholesalers," said Kevin Moffitt, president of Pear Bureau Northwest. "In addition, they are harvested when they are mature but not ripe. So consumers need to know how to select and ripen our pears to fully enjoy the sweet and juicy flavor."

Price is another challenge, according to Moffitt. The retail price of US pears is around $1.50 to $3.80 a pound, based on reports from US merchandisers.

"China is the largest producer of pears worldwide so they have a good supply at a good price. However, US pears have added costs and transportation making the price higher at retail. For these reasons most of the US pears are currently sold at the high-end supermarkets," he explained.

Moffitt said his organization was investing a lot of money on education and promotion to combat these challenges. "We have a representative with local offices who has conducted many visits to importers and supermarkets to educate them about US pears," Moffitt said.

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