A representative of leading agriculture research company ExperiCo said Cheeky-branded pears had slotted into a marketing window after the early red blush cultivars Rosemary and Flamingo and before conventional Forelle pears, which had to complete 12 weeks in cold storage.
ExperiCo research director Dr. Ian Crouch explained the mandatory cold storage period prior to sale was required as Forelle pears otherwise tended to exhibit mealiness.
“Historically in South Africa, we had three main bicolor pear cultivars – Rosemary and Flamingo, which were quite early cultivars, followed by Forelle,” he said.
“Forelle has a tendency to become quite floury or mealy which leads to a dry type of eating experience, and we found that we could solve this if it was stored for a minimum of 12 weeks.”
However, he explained this caused a problem as markets wanted a supply of bi-colored pears throughout the season, and the storage period created a substantial gap in volumes.
“So South Africa would be supplying a client and then we would have a break,” he said.
“The moment there was a break in the market the client would go to somewhere like Chile or Australia and start sourcing from there.
“If they get a good product coming from there then they might stick to that place even after the South African Forelle [pears] are available. It’s important for us to maintain a continual bi-color supply.”
FEMA proves successful
Crouch explained the efforts to bridge the gap were partly focused on either extending the availability of the Rosemary and Flamingo varieties or bringing forward the Forelle.
The last few years have seen a marked decrease in the volumes of the two earlier varieties as a growing number of producers replace these orchards with Forelle, he said.
Therefore, even though new technologies like SmartFresh have been able to extend the storage of Rosemarie and Flamingo, there have been reduced volumes available for the market.
But by using the SmartFresh technology – which manages ripening by controlling naturally occurring ethylene – Crouch said the FEMA program had successfully resulted in Forelle pears being marketed earlier than normal, but as ‘crisp and sweet’ as opposed to the traditional juicy, ripe fruit.
Volumes of Forelle pears exported under the FEMA program have soared over recent years, Crouch explained.
“Everyone has really enjoyed it, so from that perspective it’s been a great success,” he said.
But along with making Forelle pears available earlier, Crouch said another important aspect had been new variety development, especially as even with the FEMA program there was still a small gap in the market.
Cheeky production grows
He said there were numerous new blush varieties being developed that would slot into the supply gap, and one that had proved to be highly successful was the Cheeky-branded pear.
“Cheeky has a very important role. Even with FEMA it’s the missing gap. It’s been a great pear,” Crouch said.
Cheeky was bred by the South African Agriculture Research Council (ARS). It is the result of a cross of undisclosed varieties that were themselves crosses and selected for specific taste and color attributes.
The trademarked variety is available only under license from Culdevco, the cultivar development company set up by five grower-owned producers’ associations in the country.
As of 2016, some 373 hectares had been planted in the country, with two-thirds currently under production.
Culdevco general manager Dr. Leon von Mollendorff said another 72 hectares or so would be planted in the winter of 2017.
Last season there were 10 registered exporters of Cheeky and more than 40 growers who had planted the pear.
Von Mollendorff noted the fruit that had less than 30% red blush did not meet the standard to be marketed under the Cheeky trademark and was sold under the variety name Cape Rose.
He also said that along with fitting into the marketing window before Forelle, key benefits included good fruit sizing, the ability to be grown in relatively warm temperature areas and still achieve a good red blush, and a “well-accepted” taste.
“The is still a huge demand for Cheeky in especially the EU continent and as a result thereof still receiving a premium price,” he said.