U.S. pear growers hope for flavorful niche in Chinese market
In a deal that has been 18 years in the making, U.S. and Chinese authorities informally agreed to a pear trade agreement in September, which the industry hopes will be operational by the same month next year. Pear Bureau Northwest president Kevin Moffit tells www.freshfruitportal.com these are exciting times for growers, who have the potential to reach China’s growing middle class with differentiated varieties such as red pears and sturdy green D’Anjous.
Moffit is careful to point out his country does not ship such large amounts of pears to Asia, due to the region’s preference for crunchier varieties that contrast with the U.S.’s European strains.
However, the industry still sold 220,000 boxes of pears to Hong Kong and Taiwan last year despite the different taste and texture. India actually received more than either of these markets at 148,000 boxes, representing year-on-year growth of 24%.
“In terms of varieties the most interesting story is that we plan to sell red varieties in China, and as you know the color red is auspicious in China and in India too,” he says.
“We sell red D’Anjous and we’re selling red crimsons but the largest variety is the green D’Anjou as it ships well and stores better; these have already proven popular in similarly populated markets in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“They have a different flavor profile and we expect to fit into a niche in China, but a small niche in China is still a very large market for us. We will promote ourselves as different through retailers, hotel groups and the expat community.”
He says this reality is “as close as it’s ever been” since bilateral talks between U.S. and Chinese authorities in September, which will now be followed by site visits in both countries as the Chinese would like to gain U.S. access with a new variety – Fragrant pears – as part of the exchange.
“Let’s say that the market for Asian pears is not as large as for our pear varieties and it wouldn’t negatively affect our market,” he says.
“We’re happy with that if it means we can go into their market.”
He adds there will also be the usual procedures with public comment and the Federal Register, but hopefully all paperwork will be ready come spring.
“I’m hoping things get ironed out in late Spring and we can ship next year in September.
“Initially, based on what we’ve seen in the Hong Kong and Taiwanese markets, we could see 50,000 boxes going to China in the first year and that could grow to 200,000 boxes in the next three to five years.
“There are apple shipments from Washington State already going to China for a limited number of varieties, so some importers already have contacts in the Northwest and a lot of them ship pears too.”
Moffit says for almost two decades the negotiation for U.S. pears into China has been “fits and starts”. The industry was put on a shortlist by the U.S. government for Chinese access, however tree disease fire blight all but scorched its chances until a study was commissioned to see how it was transmitted.
“The study found that fire blight could not be carried on live symptom-less fruit. That was a breakthrough for us and for the last three years we’ve had real progress in negotiations based on the results of that study.