NZ pear variety attracts overseas interest
The PremP109 was the first in a line of interspecific pear varieties showcased at the Prevar Field Day in Hawke’s Bay this month, and is the product of an ongoing fruit-breeding program by government-owned development organization Plant & Food Research.
Once bred in 2010, the fruit's ownership was given to New Zealand company Prevar, while global marketing rights were licensed to the Associated International Group of Nurseries (AIGN).
New Zealand AIGN member John Morton, of the New Zealand Fruit Tree Company, says there are already several commercial growers with the variety.
"At the moment I'm looking at the growers who are actually involved and we’ll have a follow up field day from where we were - so really at this stage we think it’s got some great opportunities," he says.
The pear, which will soon have a commercial name, has a mix between Asian and European flavors, with a focus on eye-catching color and shape.
"PremP109 is a large, round-style pear - it has a very bright orange-red blush, which can be anywhere from 50-60% of the fruit. It does have real eye appeal," says Morton.
The fruit has a healthy shelf-life of about 14 days.
Prevar CEO Dr Brett Ennis says the major benefit of the PremP109 when compared with pears already in supply in Europe is that it comes ready to eat.
"Most European pears need a cold, chill period followed by warmer conditions, which means you have to buy them hard before they soften up and become good to eat," says Ennis.
"The Asian pears are already nice to eat when you pick them off the tree."
He says that by bringing the two together, the result is the flavor and aroma of the European pear with the tree-ripe convenience of the juicy Asian pear.
He hopes the mix European and Asian attributes will appeal to customers in both overseas markets.
Three key trial markets for PremP109 last year were Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, but John Morton has also seen an expansion of the fruit into the U.K. market, with a "very good" response.
"We have visitors here from Belgium who are also having a look at it.
"It’s interesting to gauge their reaction because they’re seeing a real opportunity here for the variety, moving away from some of the conventional crops like apples and European-style pears."
While Ennis admits fruit may be seen as a novelty, he believes the varieties coming from Plant & Food are much more attractive than 20th century selections, such as the kosui and hosui pears.
"They’re looking at different colors and shapes and flavors, with some interspecific pears even having secondary flavors, like hints of nut or tropical flavors."
The PremP109 is mildly sweet and very juicy.
Fruit harvesting began with some growers earlier this month, with around 30 metric tons (MT) expected to be sent to European and Asian markets, up from only 10MT last year.
Morton expects the variety to take a few more years to successfully commercialize, but he has confidence in the product. For now, his company is still gauging how it performs in particular regions.
"The thing that we’re really excited about is that it’s different," he says.
"No one else in the world is producing this. It’s something they can actually market and promote where it’s becoming increasingly difficult."