PEAR-RIPENING PROGRAM EXPANDS TO 10 SUPERMARKET CHAINS

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California Pear Advisory Board has moved its program to improve in-store pear ripening into 10 chains in 18 markets this summer.ee chains, which increased pear sales by 50%, according to the commodity board here.For this year's program, representatives of the CPAB are educating personnel at the distribution, corporate and store levels about proper ripening techniques, according

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California Pear Advisory Board has moved its program to improve in-store pear ripening into 10 chains in 18 markets this summer.

ee chains, which increased pear sales by 50%, according to the commodity board here.

For this year's program, representatives of the CPAB are educating personnel at the distribution, corporate and store levels about proper ripening techniques, according to Marjorie Frank, director of promotion for the CPAB.

The program is working with supermarket operators in New York; Minneapolis; Chicago; Tampa/Orlando, Fla.; Miami; Atlanta; Denver; Houston; Dallas; San Antonio; St. Louis; Boston; Philadelphia; Washington; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Phoenix; and Detroit.

It is based on half-day ripening seminars, as well as an in-store servicing program in which reps go to stores to teach produce staffers how to ripen fruit.

"We work with them on temperature and pressure, whether it's at their distribution plant or at the store," Frank said.

During the two-month pilot program last summer, overall shrink decreased between 5% and 10%, said Frank. She declined to comment on which retailers took part in the pilot program. One of the retailers was described in a press release as a northern California grocery store chain.

The chains that participated in the pilot program varied in size and type of operation, and where one chain would have a distribution facility that housed ripening technology, another chain would do it in-store, the CPAB said.

The pilot program last July was assembled after two industry studies in 1995 and 1996, in which 150 corporate-level produce executives and buyer/merchandisers expressed concern about the amount of knowledge regarding ripening available at the store level.

"The predominant message was that education still needs to be addressed when it comes to ripening and handling of California Bartletts," Frank said.

The successes at retail outlets participating in the pilot program indicated that consumers are more apt to buy pears that are closer to being ripe; for example, Bartletts when they're "breaking," or turning from green to yellow, as opposed to the less ripe, greener pears.

"Consumers preferred pears that are starting to naturally break three to one over green, hard pears," Frank said.

The greatest challenge facing retailers in merchandising the Bartletts is maintaining displays with a product that is susceptible to damage.

"The product goes from hard to soft; it has a very thin skin," Frank said. With all the handling the fruit undergoes, from the grower level to the many consumers grabbing and feeling for the perfect fruit, "they're subject to bruising, and the product becomes unappealing."

Frank added that retailers are "very concerned" with shrink, and how ripe product will hold up on the shelves.

Since becoming its own entity in 1995, the CPAB has been attempting to gain acceptance of its ripening theory in tiered phases, starting that year with research, moving to the pilot program the next year and going to more retailers this year. The strategy for next year is to bring the ripening message to consumers.

Frank said the fact that consumers want riper fruit reflects today's demands for convenient foods. "The trends are home-meal replacement [and] ready-to-eat," she said.

The California Pear Advisory Board is a state agricultural marketing order established in 1992 to conduct research and disseminate educational information, as well as promote and market fresh and processed California Bartlett pears.